Monday, March 31, 2014

Earth Calling...

... With bad news. Via the Gray Lady:

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
But some geniuses are having the bright idea to reconstitute the dodo and a couple dozen other extinct species while we're waiting for current populations to die. If, as some are suggesting, a new ice age is set to envelop Northern Europe, maybe they can evacuate the polar bears from the melting ice caps and let them duke it out with wooly mammoths among the glaciers in what is now merrie olde England.

This is beyond depressing. It is downright terrifying. But other geniuses in high places are balking at the UN's suggestion that rich nations had better start sending massive amounts of cash to poor nations, who will be especially hard hit by the climate change they had no hand in causing.
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama.
Hmm.... I guess those geniuses who had a hand in censoring the report think their own ivory towers will be immune from catastrophe.  We should have learned by now that under no circumstances must one offend rich people for any reason, as the mere thought of parting them from their money to help the less fortunate sends them into paroxysms of rage and shrieks of class envy.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
I want the names of those Americans and I want to know who is bankrolling them. Rupert Murdoch? Jamie Dimon, the skills gap guru? On that topic, I also want to know why our normally stingy Congress is so eagerly sending a $1 billion aid package to Ukraine. What's that you say? That the money is going straight to the oligarchs who took over in that right-wing putsch? That it could be a way to undercut Russia and grease the skids for some all-American polluting fracked gas and oil to be exported? And that the poor people of Ukraine will take the blame for the crimes of the elites, and be forced into austerity?

One "bright side" in the United Nations climate report is mentioned by the New York Times, however. Because this is America, where we must always look the bright side because it's always darkest right before it goes totally black:
 Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
 “I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
Translation: yack while you frack. Pursue an all-of-the-above strategy. Transport flammable Bakken shale oil by rail instead of by pipeline. Choose between polluting water and polluting dry land. Well, I hope that is not what they're talking about when they talk about a "shift in thinking". Like the shift in a deforested mountainside that resulted in a deluge of mud burying an entire housing development.

Is anyone taking bets about when CNN will break into its marathon coverage of the missing plane and the unbelievable amounts of garbage in the oceans, and give us some brief coverage of the Washington state disaster and all the impending disasters on our global plate?

Never mind. Because oil and gas is a big sponsor of cable news shows. Because the earth will have the unmitigated gall to ignore the mindlessness of its human inhabitants as it takes its natural and inevitable man-made course. 

Nan Socolow said it best in her recent comment on the Times:
 In due course, the tragic truth of what happened to that Boeing 777 Dreamliner will be known to all of us. This is not a wild goose chase in the South Pacific looking for Amelia Earhart whose bones lie, undiscovered as yet on Nikumaroro Island not far from Howland Island where she crash-landed with her co-pilot Fred Noonan on 1 July 1937. But it's a needle in a haystack search for the floating debris from the 777 thousands of miles off Australia, in the gyre of the Pacific Ocean. The Roaring Forties is where that Malaysian plane with 239 innocent souls aboard may be found. The talking heads and "experts", who don't know a whit more than you and I about what happened, what Is happening and are fouling the airwaves with their nattering, codswallop and bumf. The remains of the plane will be discovered - maybe not the black boxes, but the tale will be told on the waves of the Pacific Ocean. A tale of immeasurable grief that greeted those who were lost on Pan Am 103 in Lockerbie, on TWA 800, on the 4 jets of 9/11, on so many other tragic air mishaps dating back to the Hindenburg. Tears will be shed. There will be no such thing as "closure" as we have been scalded mercilessly by nature, by man's invention of flight, and by know-nothings, belabouring us with their jabber on our cyber-widgets from pcs to iphones to tablets to TV. We are small and ignorant, filled with folly.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chills, Thrills, Skills & Shills

The scams just keep on coming. But as they say in the trade, grifters gotta grift.

It seems like only yesterday when austerity was all the rage, and we were being told by our president to tighten our belts and share the sacrifice with Richie Rich and Warren Buffett so as to "win the future." But then, this being a fake populist midterm election year and all, along came the inequality craze. However, that phrase freaked out the rich people so much that in less than a week, it was bowdlerized into the opportunity gap. And now it's been even further watered down into the previously debunked "skills gap."

Grifters gotta grift. The plutocrats and the politicians and the pundits need to constantly come up with old-new ways to blame regular people for the horrible economy they had no hand in creating. And so, we have been officially diagnosed with another outbreak of the dreaded Skills Deficit Plague.

As he has done so often, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman again finds himself battling elite propaganda while neglecting to mention Democratic complicity in same:
This (the skills gap) is very much a zombie doctrine — that is, a doctrine that should be dead by now, having been repeatedly refuted by evidence, but just keeps on shambling along. EPI presents some very interesting evidence from a survey of manufacturing, but they’re hardly the first to show that the data don’t at all support the skills-shortage hypothesis. And it’s not just labor-associated think tanks or progressives who have rejected the skill shortage story based on the evidence.
Funny, that "progressive" rejection. Because running right now on Politico is a "sponsored content" story by Melody Barnes, late of the Democratic White House. She absolutely accepts the skill shortage meme that blames the victims and absolves the thieving oligarchy for its own greedy role in making the terrible economy so terrible. Could it be that her continuing employment as a Thought Leader for an elite think tank (Aspen Institute) -- funded by such oligarchs as Dem-designated bad guy David Koch and Dem friend Jamie Dimon -- depends upon her acceptance of crap? Or, given Obama's own neoliberal belief in structural unemployment, has she always sincerely bought into what she's selling?

Follow the money, and examine just who is bankrolling this truly bipartisan skills gap zombie plague. JP Morgan Chase, headed by unindicted Whale Fail banker Jamie Dimon, is the actual sponsor of the "native ad" disguised as a news story on Politico (where else?) To give the propaganda the patina of credibility, the piece bears the byline of Barnes, who is only one in a long line of lackeys who've spun through the revolving door to cash in on the Obama Brand.

Barnes is glib as she lurches on: "The skills gap plays a significant role in our unemployment picture right now. We know from an analysis by the International Monetary Fund that about one-third of those who are unemployed in the United States are unemployed because they don't have the necessary skills."

(Of course, the IMF is run by the self-same oligarchic banking cartel for whom Barnes now shills. They are best known for imposing austerity on such bankster victims as Greece, with the tragic results still playing out.)

 Barnes then goes on to plug the "National Fund for Workforce Solutions".... administered by her partner, too big to fail/jail JP Morgan Chase. Add this to the recent Brookings report that subtly denigrates the chronic unemployed who are impeding the "recovery" by "exiting" the work force, and you've got the perfect recipe for Paul Ryan and his band of sadists to deny extension of jobless benefits. Can't have those skill-less Marginals wasting away on their hammocks of dependency when all they need is some philanthropic STEM training!

As a matter of fact, the Republican House has already passed cynical legislation called the SKILLS Act (Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills) as a substitute for temporary insurance benefits that would actually help sustain life. Its purpose is to pit the jobless against each other, making them fight over plutocratic crumbs.

But back to JP Morgan Chase and its partnership with Democrats. It brags that it's "committing" $250 million over five years to JobsJobsJobs!!! (a piddling drop in the bucket, considering it has assets of well over 2 trillion -- a GDP bigger than most countries)  Because, according to its own philanthropy website, more than half of the world's overpaid CEOs are growing ever more concerned that stupid proles will stifle their profits. And ergo, the taxpayers had better fork over "matching" money to train people so as to enable the CEOs to become confident enough to hire a lucky handful of them to work longer hours for less money. Of course, they don't put it quite that way. They put it like this:
The numbers seem to contradict each other: unemployment is high across the globe, while recent data reveals that employers are having trouble finding workers who are trained for the jobs that are available, particularly in skilled labor and professional positions. And more than 50% of global CEOs are concerned that a key skills gap could limit their growth prospects. What can we do to ensure that people are trained and competitive for the skilled jobs of the 21st century?
 Through New Skills at Work, JPMorgan Chase will use its resources, expertise, and global reach to help inform and accelerate efforts to support demand-driven skills.
That last bit sounds downright ominous. It reminds me of Matt Taibbi's gloriously gruesome "vampire squid" metaphor, with those banking tentacles reaching across the globe to suck the assets out of every last man, woman, and child. For appetizers to their human feast, the financiers will be munching and crunching their cherry-picked data. Which are suspiciously fuzzy, by the way. Kind of like a plague of fungus after a heavy rain.

The real problem is not a skills gap, but a wage and jobs gap. If anything, worker skills have improved while wages have stagnated and jobs disappeared because of lack of demand. Employers like to complain about the unavailability of good help, but their real gripe is that the help doesn't want to work for the slave wages they're willing to pay. If there were truly a skills gap, the allegedly dwindling skilled labor pool would getting higher salaries. And of course, they are not.

Also, employers don't want to invest in on-the-job training. They want people fresh from their last job doing the exact same tasks as they're expected to perform perfectly from day one on the new job. And since there are fewer and fewer "last jobs" out there, the immediate proficiency the bosses expect as their god-given right is not forthcoming. So the jobs stay vacant. Employers also expect new hires to multi-task to a degree bordering on the ridiculous.

Labor economist Peter Cappelli tells a blackly humorous story about another real problem: the truly outlandish expectation gap plague that is afflicting employers:
One of my favorite examples of the absurdity of this requirement was a job advertisement for a cotton candy machine operator – not a high-skill job – which required that applicants “demonstrate prior success in operating cotton candy machines.”  The most perverse manifestation of this approach is the many employers who now refuse to take applicants from unemployed candidates, the rationale being that their skills must be getting rusty.
Meanwhile, Melody "I Walked With a Zombie" Barnes is using her Obama connection and her own tried and true "up by her bootstraps" hardscrabble autobiography (she grew up near "dried out" tobacco fields) to lend that sweet liberal glow to Jamie Dimon's get-out-of-jail PR campaign. His bank recently settled with Obama's friendly Justice Department for a slightly more piddling $13 billion for the fraud that collapsed the economy and threw all those unskilled Marginals out of work in the first place. Dimon was awarded a bonus for his malfeasance, and the fine itself will be largely whittled down through tax deductions and charitable donations and greed-washing in partnership with friendly Obama officials, both past and present. When Dimon found out about Eric Holder's criminal investigation of his establishment, he demanded and got an unprecedented face-to-face with the attorney general in order to hammer out the terms of the pretend punishment.

And the next thing you know, he's concern-trolling the unemployed with Obama's minions openly beaming by his side, secure in the knowledge that the president will never have to campaign for public office again, and that the president views financial high crimes and misdemeanors as fleeting public relations glitches.

What else did we expect? I will never forget reading that chilling chapter in Confidence Men in which Ron Suskind chronicles the new president's 2009 meeting with the big bankers, post-bailout and pre-Tea Party explosion. Their aggrieved victimhood was apparent even then; they were actually bitching about the possibility that their bonuses would be curtailed:
Obama cut them off.
"Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn't buying that," he said. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
It was an attention grabber, no doubt, especially that carefully chosen last word.
But then Obama's flat tone turned to one of support, even sympathy. "You guys have an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem," he said. "And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices."
According to one of the participants, he then said, "I'm not out there to go after you. I'm protecting you. But if I'm going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation."
No suggestions were forthcoming from the bankers on what they might offer, and the president didn't seem to be championing any specific proposals. He had none; neither Geithner nor Summers believed compensation controls had any merit.
After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift:
the bankers realized he was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.
The storm of public anger, of course, never did abate. Rather, it was cleverly deflected away from the banking cartel with a little help from the Koch Brothers, and aimed directly at a Marxist Socialist Obama straw man. Instead of blaming the banks, people blamed the government, which had forced all those lazy Blah people to buy homes they couldn't afford. Rick Santelli issued his famous racist dog whistle of a rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and thus was the right wing Tea Party movement born.

Oh, and speaking of Chicago, I almost forgot. It turns out that one of the very first recipients of Dimon's largesse will be Mayor One Percent himself, former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The money will not necessarily go toward training actual people, in case you still thought it would be. From the New York Times Dealbook:
Mr. Emanuel will have a “key role” in how the initiative unfolds in Chicago, one of the first cities the program will target, although his official position within the effort is not yet clear.
The initiative will include a heavy research component, drawing on the bank’s internal market data as well as data from outside analytics firms.
 The program is part of the bank’s larger push to focus its charitable giving on areas that have more to do with its own businesses. In 2014, the first year of the program, it plans to donate $225 million, a figure that will likely include some cuts to the bank giving for the arts and culture. Last year, JPMorgan donated $183 million in total charitable giving.
Okay, now I understand. This is more robbing from the poor to give to the indigent... but with a twist. Because this time, the money first winds up in the pockets of the protection racket.  Even the bank's pitiful pittance for charity Arts & Crafts is subverted into the Art of Graft.

And you thought Chris Christie had cornered the market on political corruption? These people not only don't bother hiding the fingerprints all over the messes they create. They're openly flaunting the huge, purple, inflamed knuckle-marks inflicted daily on the vulnerable body politic of a moribund nation. 

Dick Cheney isn't the only character who has no regrets over torture.

Those revolving doors must be spinning so fast because they want us to get dizzy trying to watch them -- and too stunned and wounded to have even a hope of stopping them.

Or, so they hope.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Here's Sand in Your Eye, America

"How many times do I have to tell you!" HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius impatiently fumed the other day. "When I say bed, I mean bed. Lights out on March 31st. No ifs, ands or buts!"

Um.... what's that you say? You need one more drink of water? You forgot to brush your teeth? You didn't do your homework? You're stoned? Well.... never mind. You can stay up just a few more minutes, but only until April, mind you! And no more excuses after that. I really mean it this time.

Another day, another Obamacare deadline extension in the ever-shifting sand. Another day to shop till you drop within the nightmare maze of the virtual predatory insurance marketplace, ignoring the grim reality that destitution is only a paycheck away. I mean that quite literally. Nearly half of us have so few liquid assets that coming up with the first premium --  and worst case scenario, having to come up with the first co-pay and deductible --  will absolutely wipe out our checking accounts.

But anyway, join the 6 million (out of more than 48 million uninsured) of your fellow citizens who reportedly have signed up so far, and try wending your way through the O-Care Funhouse in the Mall of America. As the lottery commercial says, you gotta be in it to win it. You gotta "sign up" -- that is, enter for a chance to win:

(graphic courtesy Kaiser Health News)

To accommodate the alleged last minute crush of contestants, the Obama administration, all the while screeching that "America Needs a Raise" has just added one more passive-aggressive layer of sludge to the incomprehensible kludge known as Obamacare. From the Washington Post:
Federal health officials say March 31 is still the deadline for enrolling in health coverage and that they're only making sure anyone who tried to apply by the deadline can get coverage.... The Obama administration has been adamant that the latest enrollment announcement isn't a deadline extension.
If you made an honest effort to go up to your room, but tripped or passed out on the rickety stairs,  you will not be punished. We'll pretend that you made a good faith effort to comply with our curfew. Your trip to the woodshed will be delayed because otherwise we'd look like ineffectual meanies instead of simply ineffectual.
CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services_ is going with the honor system. People submitting their applications on or through a call center after March 31 "attest" that they had trouble enrolling before the deadline.
So, will CMS make any effort to verify a person's attestation? CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille fielded that question multiple times during a Wednesday afternoon press call before she was eventually asked straight up whether the agency is relying on the honor system. Her response: pretty much, but people don't like lying to the government
Are you kidding me? Lying to parents and other authority figures to save their own hides is an essential survival skill learned early in life by all normal people. That whole George Washington and the cherry tree tale is a big fat scam to instill guilt into little liars. Humans lie because they want to protect their butts. Politicians, of all people, should realize this. As it is, there are so many winks and nods breaking out in the Beltway that platinum Obamacare coverage for treating elite puffy eyelids and stiff necks can't come soon enough.

Oh,and there has been such a surge of pliable little citizens rushing to comply with Lights Out that a totally unexpected gridlock of bodies is occurring in the virtual queue. Ergo, CMS is providing a "window of opportunity" within the Mall Maze for the folks to jump through in order to comply with the curfew rules. This, no doubt, is at the top of the "ladder of opportunity" envisioned by Obama to span the income chasm and lift people out of poverty through the magic of their grit, determination, and bootstraps.

Surge, my butt. Six out of ten Americans didn't even know about the March 31 deadline, according to a recent poll, and half of them (coincidentally, the same segment teetering on the brink of poverty) say they plan to stay uninsured.
In the past six months, 33 percent of the uninsured said they tried to obtain health coverage, either through an exchange (18 percent), Medicaid (14 percent) or directly from an insurer (13 percent). The poll didn’t say what prevented them from getting coverage.
Maybe because the pollsters didn't bother asking them? How about that whole "we ain't got no jobs, we ain't got no money!"impediment to a shopping spree in the virtual insurance predator marketplace? How about the fact that quite a few people are hesitating to sign up for coverage for fear that their undocumented family member would be deported?

What a totally preventable mess. What a monument to neoliberal greed and political malpractice  -- all so that a relatively small percentage of the uninsured can get partial subsidies for their medical needs. Had our political leaders followed the will of the majority back in 2009, when Obama had majorities in both Houses, everybody in America would have had a Medicare card in their ever-thinning wallets by now. The Democrats would not be fretting over their diminished re-election chances. The Tea Party might never have seized power in the first place. The phrase "death panel" would be permanently stuck in Sarah Palin's craw.

Physicians for a National Health Program estimate a Medicare for All plan would save the American people $350 billion in the first year of implementation, not to mention untold thousands of lives and millions from the specter of bankruptcy and depression and preventable illnesses. The proposal (HR 676) would actually expand upon and improve the current Medicare program by eliminating co-pays and deductibles. It would be financed through progressive taxation and not be means-tested.

Do you have a pounding headache? Is your chronic fatigue the result of an O-Care murketing campaign hangover? If so, here's a refreshing video antidote.

No shopping is necessary. No paper, plastic, bronze, silver, platinum or gold is required. Everybody's in, nobody's out. Because health care should be a right, not a neoliberal lottery. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Barack, the Scrivener

As commander in chief, Barack Obama ostensibly has the power to order an immediate halt to the unconstitutional bulk collection of our domestic phone records by the National Security Agency. But, like Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener, it seems he would prefer not to.

So much for his boast that this would be a "year of action" and that with his pen and his phone, he would bypass a gridlocked Congress to get stuff done.  When it suits the interests of the deep state, Obama prefers to punt the NSA controversy right over to Congress, whose lower House is, ever so conveniently, mulling an expansion of bulk surveillance capabilities.

And thus does Barack continue to lead from behind, governing by preference and passive-aggression rather than by any exertion of personal leadership.

The headline in today's White House propaganda mouthpiece is misleading to the extreme: "Obama Calls for an End to N.S.A.'s Bulk Data Collection."

He is doing no such thing. He is not ordering an end to it, he isn't even really "calling for" an end to it. Writes the New York Times' Charlie Savage:
Under the proposal, they (anonymous mealy-mouth White House source) said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
Translation: the spook agency (ies) could still easily obtain millions of specific records by a compliant rubber stamp judge under a new kind of sweeping, blanket court order if they so chose. 
As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes.
Translation: the deadline for renewal is looming this Friday, and Barack is besieged from all sides -- by privacy groups and telecoms and media. So he will be renewing the bulk collection he now pretends to abhor for P.R. purposes.... for at least 90 more days. Not right now. He would prefer not to. By early July, if all goes well, the brouhaha will have died down and maybe even a new terror threat fabricated to stun the citizenry back into the compliance to which he had been accustomed before Ed Snowden shook things up.
The administration’s proposal will join a jumble of bills in Congress ranging from proposals that would authorize the current program with only minor adjustments, to proposals to end it.
In recent days, attention in Congress has shifted to legislation developed by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. That bill, according to people familiar with a draft proposal, would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the N.S.A. to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval.
Translation: Obama's preference will, by cynical design, get lost in the shuffle. The objective is to be seen "doing stuff". His proposal appears to be purely cosmetic.
The administration’s proposal would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.
The proposal would not, however, affect other forms of bulk collection under the same provision. The C.I.A., for example, has obtained orders for bulk collection of records about international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union.
Translation: the president will, at his discretion, decide if he is required to pay attention to his own public relations bullshit. Additionally, he may at his preference or discretion allow the same illegal crap to continue under a different acronym. Or maybe not. Like Melville's Bartleby, he is a cipher, a bundle of contradictions and ambiguities.

I'd prefer not to waste any more time examining his psyche or motivations. Just pay attention to the actual enfolding plot, rather than the muddled official synopsis of it, and the rave reviews by Obama's muddled defenders.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Obama's Inferno

Good old gaffe-prone Joe Biden thinks his Boss should be canonized for his truly saintly patience with all of us dimwits, so confused by the techno-kludge that is Obamacare.

Coincidentally, the president will be meeting up with the Pope in the Vatican this week. Is Biden hinting that the Boss could set a precedent for pre-mortem sainthood? Even the New York Times, reliable administration mouthpiece that it is, is coincidentally running a largely positive piece about "the Catholic roots of Obama's activism." Apparently, the young Barack started reading St. Augustine back in his college years, a literary habit he now reportedly continues to provide the rationale and the moral cover for his targeted assassinations.

So, not so fast, President Drone.

Because coincidentally, Francis just sent a pointed message to crime Bosses everywhere. They're going straight to Hell.
This life that you live now won't give you pleasure. It won't give you joy or happiness...blood-stained money, blood-stained power, you can't bring it with you to your next life.
Repent. There's still time to not end up in hell, which is what awaits you if you continue on this path.... Men and women of the mafia... change your way of life. Stop doing evil, convert!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Oh, the Humanity

If CNN devoted even a hundredth as much time covering our hijacked economy as it does covering that missing airplane, we might just be getting somewhere and afflicting the comfortable. But, since a marathon reality show featuring an international scavenger hunt with overtones of terror, intrigue, and anguish is proving to be a ratings magnet, the most trusted name in news is only too happy to sate our appetites. The Saga of Flight MH370 must and will take dramatic precedence over that other truly epic humanitarian crisis playing out right now, in our own backyard. That's because unrelenting coverage by cable news of the tragedy of chronic, soul-killing, suicide-inducing mass unemployment would likely be box office poison.

But to be fair to CNN, they did run a story on depression, suicide and joblessness in 2012.

Jobless people themselves would probably just as soon forget their own woes.  Between interviews to nowhere and staring at their silent phones, they too can sit glued to the TV, watching stories of people even more missing-in-action and possibly dead than themselves. That is, if they still have cable, given the rapid rise in subscription rates. But just in case they're couch-surfing at a connected friend's or relative's, they can at least feel grateful to be alive and situated on dry land where they can be found if needed -- economically disposable as they've been deemed to be.

There were 239 people aboard that ill-fated airplane. We have learned the life stories of just about every single one of them in the past couple of weeks.

There are now some 5.66 million missing workers in the United States, neither counted nor accounted for. To notice them would be to raise the unemployment rate to at least 10%, up from the official 6.5%. And that would not jibe with the narrative of "the recovery."

Although the human wreckage of poverty and unemployment is littered all over the American landscape, how it got there in the first place (plutocratic greed and political corruption) is not an exciting mystery, requiring detection of the prized black box with expensive high tech toys and satellite imagery. The detritus has been out there in plain sight and hearing for so long that it's become either ignored background noise, or just part of the decor.

The popular style of understated catastrophe, which took off like a shot around 2008, has for all practical purpose just been dubbed Shabby Sober New Normal Chic by a group of Ivy League fashion critics. From the Los Angeles Times:
In a sobering new study, three Princeton economists found that only 11% of the long-term unemployed in any given month found full-time work a year later. 
Despite an improving economy, the proportion of people who have been unemployed for more than six months still exceeds the previous peak set in the early 1980s, the economists said. That's why the overall unemployment rate is still well above average.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people unemployed 27 weeks or longer rose by 203,000 in February, reaching 3.8 million.
New in the paper was a more detailed breakdown of who exactly makes up this group. The economists found that in 2012:
-- More than 30% of those out of work for extended periods are 50 or older, compared with 20% of the short-term unemployed.
-- 55% of the long-term unemployed are men.
-- 44% of the long-term unemployed have never been married and nearly 20% are either widowed, separated or divorced.
-- Blacks represent 22% of the long-term unemployed, a rate higher than their share of the population.
-- More than half of the long-term unemployed are white.
Oh, and if you're over the age of 50 and have been out of work for awhile, you might as well forget about ever getting another job for the rest of your life. Not that you really matter in the grand scheme of things, or so coldly proclaim the Three Fashionistas of the New Normal Study. And since they're part of the Establishment (Alan Krueger worked in the Obama administration) they hasten to add that miserable Americans are still not as badly off as the crushed Europeans. And there is even more than a hint of that dreaded "lack of skills" labor supply-side bunkum excuse in their report, designed (inadvertently of course) to make the miserable feel even worse and the architects of the misery more complacent as they continue to rake in more than 90% of the gains made in the "recovery." 

Interspersed among the myriad charts, graphs and mathematical formulae from the centrist Brookings Institution report is some rather condescending language, seeming to put the onus on the worker rather than the boss: (parentheses mine)
Even in good times, (sniffs, looks down nose) the long-term unemployed are on the margins of the labor market, (real lowlife fringe-dwellers, they)  with diminished job prospects and high labor force withdrawal rates, (what else can you expect from impotent withdrawal-prone Marginals?) and as a result they exert little pressure (they're diminished!) on wage growth or inflation. (They never counted anyway, so why are we even bothering with this purely academic exercise? Because the plutocrats running this establishment pay us handsomely to so expertly say what they want to hear, that's why!)
And what a lot of them want to hear is another excuse to not extend unemployment benefits for more than two million long-term jobless people.

According to Krueger and Co., there's also that annoying historical tendency of the Marginals to just up and quit their jobs:
 Although the long-term unemployed have about a one in ten chance of moving into employment in any given month, when they do return to work their new jobs are often transitory. (itinerant, hobo-ish) After 15 months, the long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely to have withdrawn (they studiously avoid saying laid off, fired, aged out, became sick or were injured) from the labor force than to have settled into steady, full-time employment. And when they exit (without, apparently, a swift kick in the butt from their boss to help them on their way) the labor force, the long-term unemployed tend to say that they no longer want a job, suggesting that many labor force exits could be enduring.(once a quitter, always a quitter.)
Words matter. And this is the part about the subset of the chronically unemployed that the moralizing Caligula Caucus will most likely pounce upon. Congress, of course, is now in the throes of debating unemployment benefit extensions. As long as there are some lazy bums who are deliberately quitting jobs and are unlikely to ever to work again for the rest of their lives, why extend the help? As Paul Ryan might say, it only encourages them to remain strung out in their hammocks of dependency. The sadistic lower House is balking at even a brief stay of execution, despite the outrageous CEO-friendly Senate compromise allowing employers to "temporarily" withhold contributions to current workers' pension plans and the additional regressive tax on airline travelers.

Although the Brookings charts do show that educated, professional people are just as likely suffer prolonged unemployment as the less educated, the authors of the study for some reason do not include these findings in their coldly written summary. Nowhere do we hear a story about the 50-something engineer laid off from a Fortune 500 company a year ago, and who has since given up even looking for work because of untreated clinical depression. Instead, according to the wonkishly dry economic report, he has "exited the work force" and has a "tendency" to not even want a job. He and millions of people like him shall remain nameless as they are rendered into statistical insignificance. 

The Social Darwinist subtext goes something like this: if we simply ignore the chronically unemployed, they will magically disappear from our radar screen. No more pings, no more blips. As Binyamin Applebaum of the New York Times puts it,
The basic argument made by the new paper, and others like it, is that the long-standing relationship between movements in inflation and unemployment, which appeared to break down during the Great Recession and its aftermath, can be restored by writing off long-term unemployment. The Phillips curve, a description of this relationship, predicted a decline of one percentage point per year between 2009 and 2013. The actual average was just 0.2 percentage points.
Adjust for – which is to say, ignore – long-term unemployment and voila! The difference almost completely vanishes.
And President Obama and Congress are not about to pledge the full bureaucratic or financial support of the United States government to search for and rescue this particular group of vanished, doomed, expendable passengers. Looking for miniscule glints of metal in a million-square mile locus, though? That, says the president, is now "among America's top priorities."

There isn't an ocean too deep, or a mountain so high it can keep them away.... away from thumping their chests and strutting their all-American exceptional stuff in their never-ending quest to become CNN Heroes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Happy first day of Spring, everybody! Let us rejoice in one of only two magical days in the astronomical year when, legend has it, Night and Day achieve parity. (equinox is Latin for "equal night")  Twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Isn't equality grand? I imagine that Consensus Builder in Chief Obama is reveling in this rare, balanced approach. On the one hand, darkness has its soporific benefits, as in an entire population too exhausted and depressed to notice they are living under the most secretive, privacy-killing, income-disparate political system in American history. On the other hand, that new day is forever dawning when an entire population can be fooled into thinking there's a ladder of opportunity just waiting right outside their doors, each rung leading to a seat at the table at the end of the rainbow.  If they only work hard enough and play by the same rules, that is.

It's the season of rebirth and spring peepers, those tiny frogs that come out of the grass and shriek with joy all night long. No slow boiling in a somnolent pot for these little guys. They are not, of course, to be confused with regular run-of-the mill frogs who scream at the slightest provocation, much like the paranoid billionaires we're hearing so much about these days. Here are the sights and sounds of slimy plutocrats faced with the specter of a slight tax increase:


While you're digesting that, the AccuWeather folks have thoughtfully debunked some of those pesky Vernal Equinox myths. Did you know, for example, that you are no more able to balance a raw egg on the Most Balanced Day of the year than you are on any other day? What a disappointment. It also turns out that even the equality of the Vernal Equinox is vastly overrated. It's kind of a scam, actually, much like the equality of opportunity Beltway Consensus meme everybody is croaking about.
"No, that's really more astronomical than anything we get closer with the equal length of day and night based on the effects of daylight saving. The one place where you'd probably see the most equality between day and night is at the equator, somewhere like Quito, Ecuador," said (meteorologist Dan) Kottlowski.
Go figure. True natural equality exists in a socialist country not under the control of the American Empire. That extra sunlight we think we're seeing? In the grand scheme of things, it is only an illusion.

But on that note, let's hear it anyway for national Sunshine Week, begun by a group of newspaper editors way back in the day when news people still demanded accountability from our elected leaders.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Play MYSTIC For Me

"Nobody is listening to your phone calls."  -- Barack Obama, June 7. 2013.

"NSA program 'reaches into the past' to retrieve, replay phone calls." -- Washington Post, March 18, 2014.

Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report on the latest Edward Snowden bombshell:
The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.
A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.
You can't blame this operation -- code-named MYSTIC -- on Evil Overlord George W. Bush. It started in 2009, early in the Obama administration, at about the same time he was boasting so stridently about the Most Transparent Administration Ever that he eventually got a special transparency award behind closed doors.

Oops. This latest Snowden revelation should rank right up there with "if you like your health plan you can keep it" but it won't. Congress will not mess with the security state, despite the best theatrical efforts of Dianne Feinstein. And if anybody points at the prez and starts with the taunt "Liar liar, Mom Jeans on fire!" it won't be the Republicans. (well, maybe it'll be Rand Paul, but that's about it.)

The Post, unfortunately, partially acquiesced to Deep State demands by agreeing not to reveal the "target"country (ies) where the spooks are busily recording and collecting conversations. But, the article continues,  
In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.
The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.
They don't say where the actual audio recordings are being stored, but that behemoth of a secret building out in the Utah desert sounds about right. Because all those trillions of words and the billions of voices that use them have to be stashed someplace, I reckon. We can't just have them floating free up in the clouds, where they constitute a terrorist threat to the bulked-up bureaucracy! Dangling conversations are a threat to our Freedoms, after all.

And moreover, the spooks retort, the Post's reporting on their sociopathic voice collections is itself a threat to our freedoms. In an emailed statement, NSA factotum Vanee Vines complained that “continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate U.S. foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.”

You can say that again, VeeVee. Journalism in the public interest does indeed place at risk the security and stalking capabilities of your bureaucracy, not to mention the untold billions of taxpayers dollars feeding its insatiable appetite. 

So I'll say it again. Either your elected reps pledge to defund the spy agencies and repeal the Patriot Act, or they can go pay somebody to hold their place in the unemployment line. (It is beneath the dignity of millionaires to use their own bodies to wait in any line.) Or more realistically, they can go to K Street or a corporate-funded university or think tank and work directly for the surveillance state as we naively vote in their corporate-funded replacements.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fat Cats and Suck-Ups

The headline in the so-called Progressive Congressional Caucus's latest budget proposal tells the whole sordid, regressive story:


Austerity is dead, and income inequality has been proclaimed as the defining challenge of our time. So long live.... Deficit Reduction?

Somebody hasn't been reading their Paul Krugman, who rightly observes that it's stupid to worry about deficit reduction during economic downturns. Somebody didn't get the message that the Fix the Debt cult of billionaire deficit hawks just turned diseased tail feathers and ran.  Somebody didn't notice that shrinking deficits are not economy boosters.

If the Democrats are wondering why their electoral chances in the mid-terms are looking so dismal, they should look no further than the progressive wing of their own increasingly right wing corporate party. Why do even the most liberal members of Congress seem to have a pathological need to tout deficit reduction in their "Better Off" budget? The headline of their document should be making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Because nobody cares about deficit reduction except obscenely rich people.

Robert Borosage of Campaign for America's Future valiantly parses the  doubletalk (by the way, I would love to see a think tank or lobby call itself something like Fight the Miserable Status Quo for Change Today, or People Against the Soul-Crushing Present) Whenever a group with "future" in the title sends me a fund-raising email, the hairs on the back of my neck remain at full attention. Because time's a-wastin'!). But, I quibble. Writes Borosage:
This is the most progressive budget that will be introduced in the Congress.  It contains bold reforms, but it also accepts a remarkably conservative fiscal framework.  
It devotes over $1 trillion more of the increased revenues from its tax reforms to deficit reduction than to investment over 10 years. It projects an annual deficit of 1.6 percent GDP in 2024, far below a sustainable level of from 2.5 to 3 percent. The CPC rightfully challenges the destructive austerity policies of the last years, calling for repeal of the sequester and the wrong-headed Budget Control Act. But it responds to the alarms of the deficit hawks. Wall Street will howl at the tax proposals, but bankers should be pleased at the tribute paid to deficit reduction.

Holy sacred cow, Batman! These pragmatic suck-ups are worse than that wimpy Oregon couple who called 911 because they were "trapped" in their bedroom by their tantrum-throwing fat cat. Aptly named "Lux."

On the one hand, the progressive budget "rightfully" challenges violently destructive, over-the-edge austerity policies. On the other hand, it politely "asks" the rich to pay just a tad more, as it tacitly gives credence to their mantra of fiscal responsibility. Much of the additional tax revenue in this budget would go toward paying down the debt instead of much-needed spending to stimulate the economy. Even if it passed, the CEOs would simply gnash their teeth in public, but purr in private, complacently licking their paws as they lose a corporate jet deduction here, a vacation home write-off there.

Because the fat cats are safe, we're still trapped, and there's certainly no law enforcement named Eric Holder's DOJ to answer our calls for help. Even Eric Holder's own DOJ watchdog admits that they're unwilling to herd fat cats.

With a few extra progressive-sounding meat by-products ( e.g.,"restoring" cuts to the previously too-meager food stamp budget and "reversing" the federal wage freeze ) this progressive budget is not too far from what the Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission has been calling for this whole time! Tax credits that reward the "hard work" of regular people, closing of tax loopholes for corporations to make it all seem fair.

It obediently falls in party lock-step with the president's own paltry suggested minimum wage of $10.10 -- rather than the more generous $15 an hour being demanded by fast food workers.

And rather than call for true universal health care in the form of Medicare for All, the We Suck Less Budget suggests "building on the successes and efficiencies" of Obamacare through a public option, and graciously allowing individual states to pursue single payer plans.... in the future, of course. Not right now, with upwards of 40 million people uninsured right now and not having the power to put off getting sick until the future.

Not only is this Better Off campaign propaganda document disturbingly vague and disturbingly conservative, it's also disturbingly pro-war and surveillance state. They don't want to end NSA domestic spying (or better yet, cut off funding entirely for the NSA, the CIA and all the other acronyms of over-the-edge authoritarianism). The Progressive Caucus is merely calling for the usual veneer of more fake transparency. They want an annual accountability report from the president to ensure that we are being spied upon in a thrifty way. There's even an ominous bit about continued funding of diplomatic efforts to effect "stability" in governments other than our own. It's suspiciously pro-regime change-sounding, as in supporting undemocratic coups that put fascist puppets into power. See: Ukraine. Why domestic spying and continued meddling abroad would even remotely make us "better off" is not explained by the progressive caucus.

The usual suspects herded into the Democratic veal pen are screeching because this bold milquetoast budget is not getting the same attention by the corporate media as Obama's worse budget and Paul Ryan's terrible budget. Progressives really should be howling in embarrassment and fury that the words debt and deficit are in a progressive document at all. Austerity words have become acceptable parts of the liberal lexicon, and are being used as olive branches to placate wealthy campaign bundlers who donate equally to both parties. Because no matter which side wins at the polls, the plutocrats will remain the pampered show cat champions. Their money, after all, determines both the campaign themes and election outcomes. They will continue getting better, and better, and better off.

And meanwhile, keep paying attention to what our politicians actually do, rather than to what they say in speeches or write in their aspirational fund-raising budget manifestos. The usual bipartisan suspects of the Millionaire Senate, for example, have just come to a tentative agreement that would resume short-term benefits to the long-term unemployed, in exchange for allowing cheap-ass bosses to "delay" contributing to the pension plans of those lucky duckies fortunate enough to still have jobs. Extending jobless benefits to a few million people for a few more lousy months would also be paid for by a regressive user tax on airline travelers. It's the same old, same old: they rob from the struggling to pay for the barely surviving. The hoarding rich shall not be inconvenienced as they grow richer and more bloated by the day. But they assuredly will continue to howl in mock outrage, victims of their own psychotic persecution complex.

The fat cat plutocrats and the suck-up politicians they own are to democracy what malignant tumors are to an organism. They neither know nor care that the cancer always dies right along with the host.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Greed: Tales of the Tolls

Austerity for the many and prosperity for the few is taking its toll, big-time.

Ask not for whom this deafening dissonant clanger of a bell tolls, proles. It tolls for thee.

Thee who drive in cheaply made overpriced cars with stuck accelerators and faulty airbags. Thee who ride the rusty rails from upstate New York backwaters in a quest for stagnating wages in the Income Disparity Capital of the nation. Thee who work and live in crumbling buildings heated by gas coming from pipes constructed, as Charles Pierce points out, during the administration of Grover Cleveland.

Ironically, those iron pipes were laid right in the middle of the last Gilded Age. Back then, of course, the Age of Excess also included manufacturing jobs. The free labor market of slavery had only recently ended, forcing the robber barons of yesteryear to either hire people, or go without their roads, bridges, railroads, newspaper chains and mansions.

The robber barons of the 19th century still had way too much, and the workers and citizens far too few protections and rights. But despite semi-regular financial panics and widespread political corruption, the economy was booming. And as the economy boomed, the labor movement began to thrive. Rights -- like the eight-hour day --  were hard-fought, but they were eventually won, despite the best efforts of the plutocrats.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the modern robber barons have amassed even more than way too much, having reaped more than 90% of the gains since the meltdown which they had an integral role in creating. The 21st century economy has been financialized, the jobs and the profits have gone offshore, and the politicians running the government at the behest of the obscenely wealthy have not put the maintenance of the commons at the top of their to-do list. Regulations, with the public safety as their quaint raison d'etre, are going the way of the dinosaur.

And so came a triple-whammy of a week of tragic news. The deadly explosion and collapse of two buildings on the poor part of Park Avenue was immediate and newsworthy. It bled, so it led.... in spite of its usually ignored locale, on the proverbial wrong side of the crumbling tracks. The irony is that the poorly maintained Metro-North line nearby had to be shut down because some debris from the blasts landed right on top of them. Decay, meet Decay.

Utterly preventable tragedies usually come at fairly wide intervals, thus making them easier for us forget and for complicit politicians to sigh "Nobody could ever have predicted that deregulated greedsters couldn't have policed themselves!" And to be sure, the two scathing reports on General Motors and Metro-North, though coming only a day apart, address a monoculture of greed whose tragic effects have been generations in the making, whose death and dismemberment tolls have been insidiously mounting in plain sight in front of blind eyes for many years.

The reports' impact is as shocking as the cataclysm in Harlem. How much longer can we ignore the human toll that the big money-controlled Caligula Caucuses of our state and national legislatures have exacted and will continue to exact unless we radically change the Greed Culture itself? How long must we wait before we replace sadism with sanity?

If the damning report on Metro-North in the wake of December's derailment and quadruple fatality is any indication, it might be awhile. Because it turns out that the only meaning of time in the world of the railway executive -- and any profiteer worth his salt, for that matter -- is money. "Punctuality Beats Safety at Metro-North" reads the headline in the New York Times:
 The review, from the Federal Railroad Administration, found that the commuter railroad’s operations control center pressured workers “to rush when responding to signal failures,” and that workers struggled to secure the track time needed to perform essential repairs. Even policies as pedestrian as the use of cellphones have created dangers: Amid confusion about the rules, cellphone use is “commonplace and accepted” among track workers on the job.
The report is all the more stunning, says the Times, because Metro-North had been considered one of the safest railway systems in the nation. And now we find out that the workers don't attend even perfunctory safety meetings, that they work long, sleep-deprived hours, that the tracks are not maintained adequately, and that getting commuters to their stagnating-wage jobs on time trumps everything else. Everything. Remember: time is money.

It's bad enough that General Motors, whose millionaire executives were so richly rewarded with much taxpayer largesse at the expense of the auto union and its pensioners, had been deliberately hiding the effects of ignition problems in some models for over a decade. But now comes news that 303 people had died in crashes in the recalled models after air bags failed to deploy.

It gets worse. The watchdog group Center for Auto Safety has also accused the now ignorance-pleading National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of ignoring complaints about the problems for years. "The only way NHTSA could not see a defect trend," said the Center's Clarence Ditlow, "was if it closed its eyes."

Oops. There go those willfully blind eyes peering at a plain-sight spectacle again.

But, as retired NHTSA researcher and crash victim advocate Lou Lombardo observes, there has long been "a strange indifference to highway carnage" by the leaders of this country. Part of it is the revolving door phenomenon, in which government regulators and the industries they supposedly monitor become, in effect one and the same entity. And both safety regulators and the auto industry have long fought implementation of a national electronic crash notification system to better track and stop possible mechanical defects in the vehicles involved in crashes. Such a system could save hundreds, if not thousands of lives, says Lombardo. Such a system also assumes that the people in charge of safety are humane, and that car manufacturers are not letting their need for greed get in the way of the safety of their customers. It also assumes they aren't stupid, since dead and maimed drivers don't go shopping for new cars.

As Lombardo and former Dept. of Transportation official Ben Kelley write on the FairWarning blog:
 ... Car companies still are racing to add infotainment features to new models – some of them featuring video display screens on their instrument consoles – that are bound to further divert drivers’ eyes and attention from the road. The mounting safety risk from infotainment systems seems to be widely viewed as inevitable and beyond society’s ability to control. Meanwhile, Texas has adopted an 85 mph speed limit for a soon-to-open toll road, a move likely to be copied by other states, but that would be off the table if safety was a prime concern.
 Are you detecting a pattern yet? The protection of life and limb may no longer be much of a basic human right as guaranteed by the United States government. But your leaders will protect to the death your right to possess your precious electronic gizmos. It's the American, multi-tasking, need for speed, profits-over-people way.

The tolls of greed, the tolls of privatized toll road death-traps, the tolls of political visual impairment, the tolls of the fingers on the electronic gizmos instead of on the steering wheels. Clunk, clang, crash, ka-ching.