Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Senate to Obama: Drone, Baby, Drone

Remember around this time last year when President Obama gave his big ballyhooed Drone Speech, promising more transparency to the citizen-consumers of America about who, when, where and why he obliterates and maims with his flying missiles?

How time does fly, just like a Predator. Five years of Obama drone strikes, at least 2,500 people in their graves. That's assuming they could find any body parts to inter.

 Meanwhile, buried deep in the cyberspace of Tuesday's online New York Times (so as not to inordinately clash with another, bigger front page bullshit story about Obama the Peaceful) is this piece by Mark Mazzetti:
The Senate has quietly stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to make public each year the number of people killed or injured in targeted killing operations in Pakistan and other countries where the United States uses lethal force.
The move highlights the continued resistance inside the government about making these operations, primarily carried out using armed drones, more accountable to public scrutiny. In a letter to the Senate earlier this month, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, expressed concern that a public report would undermine the effectiveness of the operations.
Clapper, who still has his job despite his perjury before Congress on that whole massive phone eavesdropping debacle, is perfectly correct to say that confession to mass murder by a sitting president would probably put a damper on the killing spree. I mean, it's one thing for information on Obama's drone kills to be readily available from such activist groups as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Wikileaks and such whistle-blowers as Brandon Bryant. It's another thing for Obama to publicly sign a confession, or a rolling series of confessions, to massacres of wedding parties and women and children, and have the butchery actually covered on cable TV.

The article continues,
The provision, passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last year as part of its authorization bill, required Mr. Obama to make public an annual report on “the total number of combatants killed or injured during the preceding year by the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States by remotely piloted aircraft.” The provision was the same for civilians killed or injured. But officials said that the provision encountered almost immediate resistance both from intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, some who have fought against any changes to the way the targeted killing program has been managed.
No Republican lawmakers were named. But they are probably the same Republican lawmakers whose job description is going on TV every Sunday to bitch about Obama not using enough lethal force in Ukraine, Iran and Syria. If Obama were forced to openly brag about the people he does kill, it would make them look like liars and spoil the whole canard that Obama is a peacenick with a manhood problem. Just who do they think they're kidding? 

Mazzetti continues:
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Intelligence Committee and who originally offered the provision, agreed to take it out of the authorization bill to enable it to be passed unanimously.
Dianne, who made such a big impassioned Senate floor speech about being spied upon by the CIA over the torture report, and who recently wrote a strongly-worded letter/op-ed to Obama demanding he turn over said torture report post-haste, appears to have received the apology from on high she'd so strongly craved. She is back on the dark side. The light must have hurt her eyes. And that torture report is not forthcoming from the White House.... no doubt because it is extremely damning to all concerned, who still have their jobs, power, and perks.
In a speech last May, Mr. Obama pledged to make drone operations more transparent, and administration officials said that the White House would like to gradually shift drone operations away from the C.I.A. — partly to allow targeted killing operations to be discussed more freely.
But nearly a year later, there has been little movement on the proposals. Some powerful lawmakers, including Ms. Feinstein, have opposed moving drone strikes out of the C.I.A. and managed to blunt any momentum to enact the White House proposals.
It's the tired old Good Cop/Bad Cop kabuki. Obama wants to do the right thing, wants to be honest, wants to play Shuffle the Psychopath, but DiFi, and Hillary's pal John McCain, say no way. Because the Times wants you to believe these doddering fools have more power than God -- or more accurately, the authoritarian state breviary known as Disposition Matrix.
Mr. Clapper said in a letter that the executive branch was exploring ways to “provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities.”
They're wracking their brains to come up with more propaganda, but not wracking them too hard. Because for the most part, the citizen-consumers of America don't give a shit about brown-skinned foreigners being rendered into bug-splat far, far, far away. And the executioners' branch knows it.

As Spencer Ackerman points out in The Guardian, the Senate very carefully and very specifically excused Obama from disclosing the names of the civilian victims he wrongfully kills in the drone strikes:
The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.
And what Ackerman also writes about, and the Times does not, is that "another provision, which would require alternative intelligence analysis, as well as commensurate congressional notification should an intelligence agency consider legal action against a US citizen, has been moved to a classified annex of the bill."

In other words, if Obama decides to kill ("legal action") an American citizen, he won't have to tell us about it. He'll whisper it in DiFi's ear, though. Because she just loves being kept in the cozy classified annex.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Groupthink Party

At the same time Wall Street bigwigs are signalling, via the Politico gossip rag, that they'd be equally OK with a President Hillary Clinton or a President Jeb Bush or a President Chris Christie, comes word that Hillary was guest of honor at Republican John McCain's annual neoliberal schmooze-fest for the ruling class. The press was barred, and so far there is no news about what was discussed. No secretly recorded goodies from a minimum-wage servant or waiter yet, anyway.  Her gig wasn't even publicly announced until two days before the event:
The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University announced today (April 24) that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will participate in a conversation with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at the McCain Institute's annual Sedona Forum on Saturday, April 26, 2014 in Sedona, Arizona.
"I am very pleased to have my friend Secretary Clinton join this year's Sedona Forum," said Senator McCain. "From her years of service as first lady, in the U.S. Senate and at the State Department, one would be hard-pressed to find a leader with Secretary Clinton's informed perspective on the many challenges facing America across the globe."
The guest list was a hodgepodge of Senate centrists, tax-avoiding CEOs, polluting oil company execs and neocon war hawks. (or, in the press release propaganda-speak,"thought leaders, philanthropists and decision-makers.")

Hmm. So when Elizabeth Warren told George Stephanopoulos yesterday that she thinks Hillary would be a "terrific candidate,"  maybe she meant that she hopes Hillary runs on the Republican ticket, right where she belongs.  As Hillary herself might say, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

Or,as the late Gore Vidal did say, "Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic.  But Henry Adams figured all that out back in the 1890s.  'We have a single system,' he wrote, and 'in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sushi Summit Bottoms Out

There's suddenly a reason to be cautiously optimistic: in the neoliberal death match euphemistically known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the little guy just won an important round against the steroid-fueled defending champions of Team Corporate Elite.

The small family farmers of Japan, who prefer to keep both their families and their farms intact, delivered a stunning blow last week to Big Ugly Ag. But Big Ugly Ag's promoter (Barack Obama of America), after canoodling over Sushi with P.M. Shinzo Abe of Japan, has vowed to come back for another round of fishy antics. Team Corporate Elite will refuel on even larger wads of cash, arm itself with even more fusillades of propaganda, and tone its tentacles in preparation for a whole lot of backroom arm-twisting of "constituencies" (anti-fast track congress critters in need of campaign cash and lobbyist largesse.)

Because Obama seems mighty irritated that regular people, like the small farmers of the world, are too comfortable. The capitalist monster is gnashing its terrible teeth, champing at the bit to transcend national interests for all-consuming global dominance. And Obama can't let his masters think he is a loser. As he insisted in an "I will not surrender" news conference with Abe:
"Now is the time for bold steps that are needed to reach a comprehensive agreement, and I continue to believe we can get this done. All of us have to move out of our comfort zones and not just expect that we're going to get access to somebody else's market without providing access to our own. And it means that we have to sometimes push our constituencies beyond their current comfort levels because ultimately it's going to deliver a greater good for all people."
According to Japanese news reports, Obama had complained to Abe over Sushi that while his domestic approval rating has sunk into the 40s, making selling the TPP at home difficult for him, the Japanese P.M. is much more popular. Obama seemed baffled that with an approval rating in the 60s, Abe would still bow to pressure from his own citizens over the TPP. The Japanese P.M., for his part, also complained that Obama was too humorless and business-like at what was meant to be a relaxing social event. He apparently acted like a pushy salesman instead of a visiting head of state:
Mr. Abe tried to deflect with a joke, saying "In Japan, Ambassador (Caroline) Kennedy is more popular than me." However, Mr. Obama kept pressing for concessions, citing the tariff rates for pork and beef.
Back at home, Obama and his negotiators are going to need true mega-doses of the standard corporate performance enhancers, given that their previous source of strength -- secrecy -- has been sucked dry by the actual intended victim-residents ("constituencies") of 11 different countries and their reps. Reps such as Wikileaks, and Public Citizen, and those small stalwart groups of politicians who still have their respective national interests at heart.

And even if Big Ugly Ag were to eventually prevail over the small farmers and foist its products upon the world, there are plenty more contenders waiting in the wings to take on such muscle-bound thugs as Big Bad Pharma and Poison Tobacco. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen puts it this way:
After years of missed deadlines, unbending opposition by other nations to many U.S. proposals and scores of deadlocked TPP issues, Congress’ refusal to grant President Obama trade authority, growing opposition in many nations, and now Obama and Abe not announcing a breakthrough, TPP should be ready for burial. Instead, like some movie monster that will not die, TPP is being animated by a broad coalition of powerful corporate interests and we are told talks will continue.
Even if the continuing bilateral negotiations resolve U.S.-Japan auto and agricultural trade issues, there are scores of other deep deadlocks in TPP negotiations. This includes deep disputes on medicine patent and government drug reimbursement rate policies that would affect healthcare costs; limits on financial regulation, food safety and Internet freedom; disciplines on state owned enterprises; the expansion of investor protections that subject domestic laws to attack by corporations in foreign tribunals; and environmental and labor standards. As well, 60 U.S. Senators and 230 U.S. Representatives have insisted that TPP include enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation, but other TPP countries oppose this and to date the issue had not been addressed.”
Of course, to hear the White House tell it, last week's blow to the solar plexus of his beloved corporate coup was only a temporary setback. (And given the power of his investors, he could very well be right.) According to The Hill, Obama merely "fell short" in his murketing abilities. Plus, it was a veritable whirlwind over there, and he got a bit buffeted in the ring. But according to administration flacks, Obama is still the champ -- because even though he never connected, he threw some pretty amazing "breakthrough" punches and created a "pathway" to the winners' circle:
"And so, when we say is there an agreement, the agreement comes on the very last day of the negotiation when you have a comprehensive package. That’s not where we are today,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters Friday on Air Force One.
 “Where we are is at that moment where we see how we’re going to achieve resolution potentially of these key market access issues that will help unlock other negotiations,” the official said. 
I nominate that last sentence for a Murketer of the Year award in the word salad category of best performance by an uncredited obfuscator in a supporting role.

And anyway, who needs a "senior Obama administration official" to toss out wilted propaganda when you have the glitzy Hollywood version so cleverly and originally known as West Wing Week? This is the email video modeled after Entertainment Tonight, sent out by the White House to disengaged citizen-consumers to keep us up-to-date on what we should think is important. The president, first lady and their palace guard are all portrayed as celebrities and filmed in only the most flattering lights and angles.

If West Wing Week was your only source of news, you wouldn't even know the reason for Obama's whirlwind trip to Asia. You're told that he flew to Japan to eat and say hello to some factory robots. Seriously. This is the blaring headline:

"POTUS Dreams of Sushi"

To an up-tempo light jazz score, pre-trip POTUS is shown in the first scene as Upper-Middle Class Everyman, cavorting on the White House tennis and basketball courts and reading "Where the Wild Things Are" to a group of children. The one realistic moment is when he forms his fist into a claw and uses his fishy dulcet tone to camouflage his inner free-market roar.


Then follow a whole series of Potuses and Flotuses planing and deplaning to the salutes of military men and the air-kissing and kowtowing by factotums. Once he arrives in Asia, Potus is instantly transformed into Potentate, with all the red-carpet and orchestral trimmings. He eats a $300 plate of Sushi, and gushes over robots. The Temp Emp of America then eats some more, this time with the Perm Emp of Japan. There's even a scene of them reviewing a medieval jousting tournament from the royal box. But not one word about the TPP. Not one single word.

The film ends with the non sequitur of Obama back home in the White House, jocularly posing for photos with comic Jim Carrey and making fun of his white shoes. I guess the president can only be humorous in his own comfort zone.

Watch the West Wing Week video here if you haven't eaten recently. 

And if you tried to look beyond White House propaganda for some real news on the president's Asia trip, you probably looked in vain. Because according to the dutiful Washington press corps, the president went to Asia to... eat! Here, for example, was the headline from ABC News:

"Mt. Fuji-Shaped Ice Cream Is 'Delicious', Obama Says"
Asked by ABC News how he found last night’s state dinner dessert, Obama said it was “delicious.”
"They had the green tea at the bottom that I’ve spoken about having since I was 6,” he said. “I was very pleased.”
He later passed the compliment to the emperor and empress in person as he bid them farewell at the Hotel Okura.
“Thank you for last night it was such a nice evening,” Obama told the couple.
Whiel (sic) waiting for his royal highnesses, Obama told the press that he is jetlagged on day three of his Asian tour. “I’m still on the waking up at 4 thing,” he said.

Whiel you're waking up from that vision, let me end the misery with just one more shallow non sequitur:

If you can't live by the promise of hashtag, what can you live by?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

As the Times Turns

 (Updated below)

When is a New York Times retraction not a retraction?

When the Gray Lady gets caught with her bloomers down, but avoids any admission of wrongdoing, and hides her "correction" in a back page instead of right where it belongs. That, logically, would be on the front page where the original story and photo spread appeared, accompanied by a large type, bold print apology.

Those grainy photos of bearded "green men" that were peddled by the Obama administration to the newspaper as proof of Russian presence in East Ukraine, and dutifully and unquestioningly reprinted by the Times, have been exposed both as photos of different men and as old pictures actually taken on Russian, rather than Ukrainian, real estate. The whole thing had a decidedly Loch Ness monster feel to it right from the get-go, but at least it didn't take half a century for the fraud to be exposed. Thanks to the miracles of high resolution technology and hundreds of unlying 50/50 human eyeballs, the fakery failed within days.

Here are the opening weasel words in the "corrected" story:
A collection of photographs that Ukraine says shows the presence of Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, and which the United States cited as evidence of Russian involvement, has come under scrutiny.
The photographs were submitted by Ukraine last week to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organization in Vienna that has been monitoring the situation in Ukraine.
Some of the photographs were also provided by American officials to Secretary of State John Kerry so he could show them when he met in Geneva last Thursday with his counterparts from the European Union, Russia and Ukraine.
OK, so in the original story (see my previous post)  the photographs were enthusiastically "endorsed" by the Obama administration itself . But not 48 hours later, they're suddenly playing Hot Potato with their own discredited propaganda. Blame it all on "Ukraine." (which, let's face it, can now be defined as the right wing coup orchestrated by the U.S.) Ukraine says it was given (rather than eagerly grabbing) the photos by an "organization" which has been "monitoring" the situation. Poor John Kerry was simply passively "provided with" the evidence so he could have something cool to display for Show And Tell with his pro-West classmates.

For her part, State Department murketing pro Jen Psaki clumsily side-stepped the cesspit of disparities. You see, she insisted, that front page Times photo spread was only part of a "draft version" of a briefing packet. The most glaring example of the fakery -- a group shot of allegedly newly-arrived Russian militants in East Ukraine -- was actually taken in Georgia six years ago. The original photographer not only confirmed this inconvenient fact, he complained that the State Department had used his work without permission. Psaki excused the oversight and gave Kerry cover by claiming it was not among the photos handed to him.

The joint White House/Times ass-covering concludes:
Still, Ms. Psaki asserted that there was considerable classified and unclassified information that had led the United States and its Western allies to “make a connection between the Russians and the armed militants” in eastern Ukraine.
“We don’t have a shadow of a doubt about the connection,” she said.
Her cavalier, self-confident, so-what tone is indicative of the cavalier, self-confident, so-what tone of her bosses, and the cavalier, self-confident, so-what tone of the New York Times. They simply do not acknowledge the terrible consequences, in terms of human morbidity and mortality, of their irresponsible actions. As Polk-winning journalist Robert Parry puts it, 
In the old days of journalism, we used to apply the scrutiny before we published a story on the front page or on any other page, especially if it had implications toward war or peace, whether people would live or die. However, in this case – fitting with the anti-Russian bias that has pervaded the mainstream U.S. press corps – the scrutiny was set aside long enough for this powerful propaganda theme to be put in play and to sweep across the media landscape.
Not only has the Obama White House been exposed in an outright lie, but the Times just lost all the credibility it had clawed back since the phony stories it ran in partnership with the Bush White House. Alex Lantier of the World Socialist Website asks the following questions:
How was the decision to publish the fabricated photo report taken, and by whom?
· What was the Times’ role in the fraud? Did it doctor the photos, or did it uncritically publish photos doctored by as-yet-unnamed operatives in Kiev or in Washington?
· Do Times staff subject information they receive from the state to any critical review?
I suspect that Public Editor Margaret Sullivan will address these queries sooner rather than later. To her immense credit, she wrote an excellent piece this week that boldly questions the ethics of the Obama administration, both regarding the president's targeted assassinations and his attack on press freedoms in general. Unfortunately for the Times, arguably the most powerful and influential media outlet in the world, Obama seems to have found its Achilles heel. He has found the sweet spot where he can inject all the personal charm and state-sanctioned fraudulence at his disposal, and in the process poison the bloodstream of democracy itself. 

Update: Margaret Sullivan weighs in
It all feels rather familiar – the rushed publication of something exciting, often based on an executive branch leak.  And then, afterward, with a kind of “morning after” feeling, here comes a more sober, less prominently displayed followup story, to deal with objections while not clarifying much of anything.
The problems with the first article did not go unnoticed by readers and commenters. Ken Miller, a professor at Columbia University Medical School, called the photo story “egregious, being based entirely on alleged identifications of individuals in pairs of photographs where the faces were so fuzzy there was no way to see anything more than a vague and perhaps entirely coincidental resemblance (not to mention that the authenticity of the photographs themselves wasn’t established in any way).”
And the reporter Robert Parry (formerly of Newsweek and The Associated Press) on Consortiumnews.com sees a pattern in Times articles, often based on administration leaks, that “draw hard conclusions from very murky evidence while ignoring or brushing aside alternative explanations.”
Thursday morning, I asked the foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, to talk about what had happened.
Mr. Kahn rightly points out that The Times has made a major commitment to covering the Russia-Ukraine story over the past several months, using as many as 12 staff reporters, many of them on the ground. He calls the coverage “voluminous, competitive and excellent.”
He rejects the idea that The Times’s coverage has lacked skepticism and sees this instance as a result of a simple mistake: the State Department’s mislabeling. He also makes the point that, after hearing about objections to the photographs, “we spent the better part of a news cycle” trying to pin that down for the follow-up article.
“We were the ones who dug into that,” he said. In addition, he said, this article has to be seen within a larger reporting context: “This was not our first word on the subject, and it wasn’t intended to be our last.”
Mr. Kahn said he was well aware that many readers and commenters see a great deal of Times coverage through the jaundiced lens of its flawed reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war – as do both Mr. Miller and Mr. Parry, who are quoted above.
“We still have that in mind, too, and we are on guard,” Mr. Kahn said. But he said that was not a germane comparison in this case because he does not believe that the photographs were doctored or intentionally misrepresented for propaganda purposes. And he noted that the first article – published on a tight deadline, he said, because of competitive pressures – was not entirely dependent for its conclusions on the photographs, but also included other reporting that led to similar conclusions.
Here’s my take: The Times’s coverage of this crisis has had much to commend it, especially the quality of the on-the-ground reporting. But this article, with its reliance on an administration leak, was displayed too prominently and questioned too lightly. The Times’s influence demands that it be cautious, especially when deciding to publish what amounts to a government handout.
Got that, proles? Mistakes were made. But, deadline. But, we're Number One. So let's move on, oh ye jaundiced ones of little faith! 

Meanwhile, State Sec'y John Kerry apparently missed the Times' non-correction correction, because he's still doubling down on the discredited photographic "evidence." In an impassioned speech yesterday he shrilled,
Some of the individual special operations personnel, who were active on Russia’s behalf in Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea have been photographed in Slovyansk, Donetsk, and Luhansk.  Some are even bragging about it by themselves on their Russian social media sites.  And we’ve seen weapons and gear on the separatists that matches those worn and used by Russian special forces.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Smell of Neocon Times in the Morning

The Ukraine reporting by the New York Times gets more shameless and shoddy by the day, a reflection of the increasing desperation of the neoliberal powers that be in their power grab for Ukraine. Tennessee union-busting Senator Bob Corker summed it up succinctly and inelegantly on the televised Sunday blatherfest: "We're going to lose Eastern Ukraine!"

He might as well have admitted that the re-ascendant American neocons already think they own the place, just because they orchestrated a coup and installed a puppet into power.

And now to today's lead Neocon Times article, ominously and inelegantly headlined "Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia."
For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.
Orwell would have had a field day with this opening paragraph. Little green men with guns have landed upon a civilization recently infiltrated by red, white and blue men with guns, and the alien abduction cult victims reciting the script provided by the hack writers of Hollywood-on-the-Potomac are fighting a valiant battle against an extra-galactic enemy (Putin.)
Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.
The Obama administration studio bosses have assigned themselves the  preternatural ability to instantly identify photos and costumes as authentically alien, green-men couture, as opposed to those shoddy knock-offs sewn by disabled sub-minimum wage slaves in a CIA-front sweat shop. Masked men are always easily identified by their identical masks, of course. Just like sarin bombs are easily traced to the Assad regime in Syria when proclaimed by White House fiat.
And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.
Another name for Ukraine's "state security service" is probably Blackwater, XE, or whatever State Department and CIA contractors are calling themselves these days. Strelkov -- assuming that he is indeed one of the green men -- is only "said to" (we are not told who is saying) have a history of undercover work.
“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.
Translation: We marauding elites are all in this together. We hold our trumped-up pieces of evidence to be self-evident. (The Times, as a unified member of the Broad community, helpfully publishes all the fuzzy photos.) Jen Psaki, incidentally, is not a career diplomat. She is a career public relations and marketing pro who has worked on several Democratic political campaigns, was the Obama spokesperson for his re-election bid before her appointment to the White House communications shop, and then was quickly transferred over to State to replace neocon Victoria "Fuck the EU" Nuland. Psaki also worked in the private sector, for the Global Strategy branding and consulting group. In other words, she is a professional bullshit artiste.
But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.
John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”
Wow. So Putin has his own private, secret army, like Obama doesn't also have his own private, secret army. And some Russian wars are secret, incorporating spying, agitprop and terrorism? Of course, the Times fails utterly to mention the whole parallel universe thing. Russia has its KGB and “maskirovka” (disguised warfare), but if you just woke up after a half-century nap and picked up the Gray Lady today, you would never have learned that the United States has its CIA and its top-secret Special Ops military forces operating in more than 100 countries throughout the world.
In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.
A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.
Any science fiction worth its salt has the aliens blending in with the locals. This is a real invasion of the body-snatchers, folks! Every once in awhile, you see the eyes of a perfectly normal looking human transform into either soulless black pools or pulsating red dots. And then the real humans go bananas. Teenage boys take to wielding baseball bats and knives. Groups of men become "unruly" and dress up in right-wing camouflage. The streets are overrun by "local toughs." That Gray Lady is certainly showing her age, envisioning those hordes of James Dean rebels without a cause!
But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”
Every shlock movie has that anonymous, slightly unhinged woman who suddenly stumbles into the war zone and engages the alien (who turns out to be a coy philosopher) in a heartfelt conversation, eliciting a grand Moment of Truth. The whole paragraph, especially the last hackneyed sentence, comes straight from a Hollywood-on-the-Potomac scriptwriter's fevered brain. I nominate it for a Raspberry.

Meanwhile, the neocons are ramping up the pressure on Obama to be more openly forceful with the alien invaders. Robert Parry points to Nicholas Kristof's Sunday column as a prime example of the Times' bellicose complicity: (Kristof, whose father hailed from Ukraine, insists that that nation's fondest desire is to be fondled by the West)
 On Sunday, Kristof wrote: “For people with such fondness for American culture, there is disappointment that President Obama hasn’t embraced Ukraine more firmly.”
Kristof also blamed Ukraine’s economic woes on Russia when a more honest explanation would be that the free-market “shock therapy” that Western advisers imposed on Ukraine after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 allowed a dozen or so well-connected “oligarchs” to plunder the country’s wealth and amass near total economic and political control. They are the principal reason for Ukraine’s pervasive corruption and poverty.
But Kristof appears to be readying his New York Times readers to support the violent crushing of the popular resistance in eastern Ukraine, which was President Yanukovych’s political base. Kristof is a renowned R2Per, urging a “responsibility to protect” civilians from government force, but his sense of responsibility appears to be highly selective, fitting with his favored geopolitical priorities.
More broadly, the U.S. news media’s hiding of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis has become a near obsession, indeed, done in greater uniformity across the mainstream press and even much of the blogosphere than the misguided consensus on Iraq’s WMD in 2002-03 that led to the disastrous Iraq War.
Testosterone rhetoric is definitely on the upswing. To complement Kristof's creepy desire to see Obama "firmly embrace" Ukraine, another of the paper's doltish columnists publicly complained on Resurrection Day (Easter Sunday) that Barry's failure to commit is proof that he has no balls. Said David Brooks on Press the Meat:
 And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the Middle East, there's an assumption he's not tough--
Putin, though, said dirty old man Brooks, is "going to relentlessly expand."

 I hereby nominate David Brooks for the Raspberry for worst performance in a whole lifetime of shlock performances in the annals of overpaid corporate media hackdom.

Update: Robert Parry notes that today's Times headliner was co-written by the same reporter (Michael Gordon) who co-wrote, with Judith Miller, the phony "tubes of uranium" story that became the excuse for invading Iraq. Gordon also helped write the phony Sarin story that was going to be the excuse for Obama bombing the hell out of Syria. I guess that makes him a bona fide member of the Broad group-think community of excuse-makers touted by Jen Psaki.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Obama to America: God Is Totally Awesome

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

Separation of church and state? Like the Bill of Rights, that is becoming quite the quaint concept. What the one indispensable nation on the bright shining hill hath joined together, let no politician worth his salt put asunder.... especially when the economy sucks for the vast majority. Thus spake Obama:
These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago.  And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today.  They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another. 
For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal.  We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him.  We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life.  And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly “the least of these” among us, just as He loves every one of us.
I guess his meeting with the pope rubbed off on him. Either that, or he's telling us that prayer is all we have left, now that the great Satan Oligarch has been unleashed upon the Precariat. "For me, Easter is a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend," he droned on. Just like those drones on the Yemeni and Pakistani horizons.

(Update: Wouldn't you know it. As Obama was delivering his sermonette, there was in fact another drone strike in Yemen, killing more than a dozen "least of these" human beings. The reapers apparently had been hovering like avenging angels in the skies since Holy Thursday. Upon further reflection, the president apparently opted for renewal of drone strikes instead of the standard ceasefire during the holiest week of his whole year.)

 Actually, I think he went into religious overkill mode in his weekly address to pre-empt criticism from Fox News that he's taking the Christ out of Easter, given that he also plans to celebrate the holiday the old-fashioned pagan way this Monday. And to be fair, he also gave a tip o' the hat to American atheists ("non-believers") and other faiths.

  Meanwhile, as with everything else in neoliberal America, admission to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll is possible only by the luck of the draw.
This year's theme  "Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape," encourages children to lead healthy, active lives in support of the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative. In addition to the fun and games, the day's activities will help educate families on smart ways to incorporate healthy eating and exercise choices into their daily routines.
I am sure that the one in six families deemed food-insecure are just dying to learn about smart ways to incorporate healthy eating habits -- such as, how to procure actual food -- into their soul-crushing daily routines.

And this might sound picky, but the syntax in the first sentence in the egg roll press release is a little creepy. (Frankly, the whole shame-peddling Let's Move gimmick is a little creepy.) Children are encouraged to lead healthy active lives in support of the first lady's initiative. What about encouraging them to lead healthy active lives in support of their own well-being? How about the first lady going to Congress and shaming them into restoring those billions of dollars in bipartisan food stamp cuts?

 But I digress from the faith and the fun. In solidarity with the Christian tradition begun by poor-hater Ronald Reagan and his lovely wife Nancy, the eggs will be made of inedible wood and painted with the likenesses of the First Families and their pampered pets. Bo and Sunny eggs will be colored purple, in keeping with the "there are no red states, there are no blue states" consensus fetish so beloved by Barack. Limited bipartisanship, just like the limited edition eggs, ensures that endless war, corporate welfare, and the surveillance state are permanently exempt from phony congressional gridlock.

Speaking of the stifling security state, the following items will not be tolerated at the White House festivities:

‐Open Food and Beverages of any kind
‐Duffel Bags/Suitcases/Backpacks (what, no sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom? Rats.)
‐Smoking (even though under the TPP, Big Tobacco would be given carte blanche to sell its poison to poor children in third world countries over the objections of actual parents)
‐Knives of any size
‐Aerosols of any kind
‐Animals (except guide dogs)
‐Real or Simulated Weapons/Ammunition

- And most especially, these dreaded creatures:

Happy Oestrus, Passover, and Peep Day to Sardonickists everywhere!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Oligarchy USA

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the rich have an outsized influence on politics. There have been signs and symptoms of misanthropic wealth pestilence all over this land. Premature deaths, one in five children in poverty, the worst income disparity since the Gilded Age, the highest incarceration rate on the planet. It's just that it couldn't be absolutely, scientifically established that a plague of oligarchs has descended upon us, chewed us up, digested the nutritious bits, and upchucked the rest.

Until now, that is.The pathology report is in, folks. At long last, we have irrefutable proof that the one indispensible nation has been subsumed by a bona fide oligarchy, leading to regressive tax policies, cuts in social programs, and capture of the mass media by corporate interests. Benjamin Page, the Northwestern University academic who proved one year ago that the ultra-rich have an outsized influence on policy, has just published a new paper with a Princeton colleague that makes the death of democracy official.

 So, do we let the embalming and the dirge commence, or can we go all Dr. Frankenstein on the carcass and attempt to reanimate it?

Of course, the corpse has been rotting away for quite some time now. We've been sickened by the stench for decades, despite the cheery and unrelenting death denialism propaganda from the corporate media and political snake oil salesmen. We've been taught to equate citizenship with consumerism, a booming stock market with a healthy economy. We've been brainwashed into viewing politics a tribalistic spectator sport, and universal human rights as a lottery that we all must enter for that slim-to-none chance to win.

The powerful are able to maintain the con because, as serendipity would have it, the economic elites and the regular schlubs often want the same things. For instance, since rich and poor alike favor marriage equality, gay rights policies are on the ascendant. After all, the wealthy are gay as often as the poor. CEOs might make more than 700 times the salary of the average minimum-wager, but they have gay relatives in probably the same proportions. 

Andrew Cuomo,New York's fiscally conservative governor, probably never would have championed marriage equality in his state without the approval of his Wall Street backers. President Obama also "evolved" on the issue when his LGBT donors threatened to withhold their own considerable financial support of his re-election bid.

As the report's authors note, "Ordinary citizens... might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."

 Among the other findings of Page and Martin Gilens:
Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
 When a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants.  In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.
  When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
The authors also indirectly scoff at the standard blame-the-victim canard that we citizens get the government we deserve either by not voting, or voting against our own economic interests.  Um -- if you accept the findings of this study (which I do)  you can vote early, you can vote often, you can vote for your own interests till the cows come home, and it still won't do you a damn bit of good. They conclude:
Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support. But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect  Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status.
Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good. All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative.
Amen to that. Wealth does not necessarily correlate with intelligence, nor poverty with stupidity. 

The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, are different from you and me. Yeah, retorted Ernest Hemingway -- they have more money.

And don't forget the power of their influential fascist jackboots pressing down ever more sadistically upon the neck of democracy's corpse. The rich are too stupid to realize that gluttonous feasting upon the diseased, the dying and the dead is harmful to their own health. Those ivory towers they build upon the weak foundations of an overflowing graveyard will soon tumble and fall.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Say Hello to the Neocon Times

The Gray Lady donned her dull, leaden body armor today for two boringly bellicose homepage articles. As her clarion call for war rings resoundingly hollow, you might call this dissonant tune Iraq Deja Vu All Over Again.

 First, the unsigned editorial, which disdains any shades of gray, leaden or otherwise, and simplistically reduces the subject to Russia Bad, USA Good. I would hazard a guess that if the editorial was not directly penned by Dick Cheney, Ronald Dumsfeld, Robert Kagan, or any of the Bushie neocons still lving and thriving on the taxpayer dime and heart, then it was written under the influence of drugs or with a weapon pointed at their sweaty typing fingers. Without one trace of shame or irony, the Times proclaims that Putin is fomenting "Soviet-style propaganda" and nobody outside Russia is buying his claims that the right wing coup in Ukraine was a right wing coup. So I guess that makes most of the reader-commenters and most of us looking outside the corporate media for our news "nobodies."

And for a lesson in how not to write pro-war propaganda to make it seem like independent journalism, be sure to read David Herszenhorn's subtly headlined "Russia Is Quick To Bend Truth About Ukraine's Political Crisis."

(If only the Times were so bold in other areas, and blared headlines like "Republicans' Criminal Lies About Climate Change" or "Obama Brags About His Drone Murders" or "United States Devolving Into Fascist Police State" then maybe I could forgive them this latest little jingoistic peccadillo.)

Herszenhorn begins thusly:
And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
Wow. He could have been talking about crypto-fascist CNN's shock 'n' awe Iraq War trailer, back when every American corporate hack worth his salt was clamoring to be embedded with the troops. Or when the Times falsely reported on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and thus allowed Cheney to go on TV and point to the Times as proof of same. He might even have been talking about crypto-fascist CNN's more recent warm-up acts for the pre-empted-by-Putin bombing of Syria. Or its jingoistic coverage this week of the "Boston Strong" pep rally for a proxy war (or the MIC's hoped for real war) with Russia.

To Herszenhorn's tepid credit, he does mention further down in his article that, yeah, maybe the Murkans have also been indulging in a bit of propaganda themselves. But only further down in the article:
There is no question that the new Ukrainian government and its Western allies, including the United States, have engaged in their own misinformation efforts at times, with officials in Kiev making bold pronouncements in recent days of enforcement efforts that never materialized. On Tuesday, some American officials were spreading unverified photographs allegedly showing Russian rocket launchers carried by pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine.
I hope you didn't miss the subtlety. When the USA does propaganda, it only does it occasionally. When Russia does it, it's unrelenting torture. Those poor people apparently are never allowed to even sleep. The Times, as megaphone for the White House, wants you to know this. And such is the desperate tone in the article that the White House must surely realize that its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the public are going for naught.

The public is too weary, too broke and too cynical for any more phony patriotism. And the small segment of the public that is paying attention is hopping mad and more sympatico with our fellow victims of neoliberal austerity in Ukraine than we are with our own elected officials.

These are the neocon times that try men's souls.

If you crave honest coverage of the Ukraine situation, avoid the Times and the equally dishonest and war-mongering Washington Post. Seek out instead various European publications, such as Der Spiegel. And don't miss the latest from Polk-winning Robert Parry, who encapsulates the whole sham in as clear and cogent a way as I've yet read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Corruption in a Vacuum Tube

In today's disappointing New York Times column, Paul Krugman correctly blames the predatory financial industry for "undermining our economy and our society."

But he refrains from blaming the political system in general and the Obama administration in particular, even though "there is a clear correlation between the rise of modern finance and America’s return to Gilded Age levels of inequality." Instead, he writes that "we" are giving vast amounts of public money to the same people who screw the little guy every single minute of every single day (the words after "we" are mine, not Krugman's).

Besides never defining "we" he was vague about who to blame besides the greedy "flash boy" sociopathic traders highlighted in the recent bestseller by Michael Lewis. Instead, he laments that unfathomable piles of money are simply going to waste:
How much waste are we talking about? A paper by Thomas Philippon of New York University puts it at several hundred billion dollars a year.
Mr. Philippon starts with the familiar observation that finance has grown much faster than the economy as a whole. Specifically, the share of G.D.P. accruing to bankers, traders, and so on has nearly doubled since 1980, when we started dismantling the system of financial regulation created as a response to the Great Depression.
What are we getting in return for all that money? Not much, as far as anyone can tell. Mr. Philippon shows that the financial industry has grown much faster than either the flow of savings it channels or the assets it manages. Defenders of modern finance like to argue that it does the economy a great service by allocating capital to its most productive uses — but that’s a hard argument to sustain after a decade in which Wall Street’s crowning achievement involved directing hundreds of billions of dollars into subprime mortgages.
Wall Street’s friends also used to claim that the proliferation of complex financial instruments was reducing risk and increasing the system’s stability, so that financial crises were a thing of the past. No, really.
If there was a Republican administration cop not only asleep on the beat, but cheering the criminals on, I think Krugman would be naming names in this latest column. Actually, he does name Chris Christie, but only to compare the flash- trading fiber-optic tube under the Hudson River with the New Jersey governor's own canceled commuter tunnel. Democrats, as usual, receive Krugman immunity from polemical prosecution.

So, here is my published comment to Mr. Krugman:
There's a bill floating around that would slap a tax of only three pennies per $100 on those scammy high speed trades. It would raise an estimated $352 billion over ten years. Think of all the projects for the greater social good that such a tax could fund. Schools, jobs, infrastructure repairs, expansion of Social Security. What a great first step toward leveling the playing field and fighting back against the worst income inequality since the Gilded Age!
But guess who's adamantly opposed to this mild Robin Hood tax? President Obama, that's who. He's afraid that upsetting the volatile market would make Mr. Market more volatile. It's the same excuse his Attorney General uses for not prosecuting the Wall Street mob. Their rackets might actually lose money. Their feelings might get hurt. Jamie Dimon might move JP Morgan Chase out of the country. And then where would all the money for the election of complicit politicians come from?
Meanwhile, senatorial leaders like Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) openly complain to all who will listen that the vampires of finance are being unfairly demonized. "Left-wing blogs are the mirror image of the Tea Party," he fumed to The New Republic a few months ago. "They just have less credibility and less clout."
With Dem friends like that, who needs the Grand Guignol Party? Tax the rich, jail the banksters, ban legalized bribery, impeach half the Supreme Court, support Sanders and Warren.
Otherwise, it's R.I.P. democracy.
For a more refreshing overview of reality, here's a Guardian piece by Glenn Greenwald, which also links to the excellent PBS documentary "The Untouchables." The film, which aired a year ago, does place the blame for our continuing economic woes squarely upon the political corruption within the Obama administration. The film was so scathing that Holder henchman Lanny Breuer was forced to quit within days of its airing, purely for appearance's sake of course. Meanwhile, the gambling continues, and all the pundits express shock whenever a new blockbuster bestseller hits the stands and repeats the same old story over and over and over again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Debtor Dynasties

 (Updated below)

The Kochs and the Waltons have their patrimonial dynasties.

The Bushes and the Clintons have their political dynasties.

And just so we won't feel left out, we regular folk have been gifted with our very own debtor dynasties.

Now that the deficit hawks and the plutocrats who own them have been at least temporarily rebuffed in their quest to trim (Democrats) and slash (Republicans) the safety net, the poobahs have decreed that we are now responsible for our ancestors' alleged Social Security overpayments, even if they date back to the last century.

So, if you were hoping for an income tax refund this year and you were orphaned as long ago as the 60s, and your surviving parent or guardian had collected survivor benefits to feed and clothe you, the government just might try to claw some of that money back. They don't even have to supply you with any proof of overpayment. They don't have to obey the various laws exempting children from the debts of their deceased parents. They just keep the money you were counting on to feed and clothe yourself and your own children.

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post has the whole unbelievable story:
A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.
When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.
Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.
All told, writes Fisher, almost $2 billion in refunds have been intercepted by the Treasury this year alone. Very old alleged debts account for $75 million of the confiscated money. And it's all the result of a sneaky little rider tucked into the Farm Bill three years ago. You remember the Farm Bill, the latest version of which cut several billion dollars from the food stamp budget? And which President Obama glowingly touted as shrinking the deficit? (along with shrinking millions of stomachs from lack of food.)

According to the Post, not one government official was willing to take credit for confiscating tax refunds from those hard-working Americans. Obama, though, loves to praise people for their "grit and resilience," for having no choice but to accept those euphemistic hard choices. I hope somebody asks him about this, newly fresh as he is from his Texas speech where he praised himself as the human culmination of LBJ's Civil Rights legislation. I would like to hear about the discrepancy between his civil rights and those of Ms. Grice (she is black) and thousands like her.

Ironically, she works for the federal government (Food and Drug Administration), so this is pretty much a quadruple whammy for her. First, Obama froze her pay. Then, Obama instituted the Insider Threat program requiring her co-workers to turn her in if she has personal or financial problems. Third, she was furloughed last year when the government shut down. And now, the government is taking back nearly $3,000 of her hard-earned money in order to satisfy a debt that may or may not be valid. Luckily, she has a lawyer to sue on her behalf. Whether she is now considered a threat for talking to the press is another story.

Update: Ms. Grice's senator is shocked, shocked at this travesty she knew nothing about, and has hastened to write a strongly-worded letter to the Social Security Administration requesting that their conscience be their guide in future generational thefts. 

Update 2: The Social Security Administration dug deep and located the remnants of its moral compass. I say remnants because due to popular outcry, it will only "suspend" clawing back from survivors alleged over-payments to deceased relatives pending a more thorough review, and only for alleged debts less than 10 years old. So your parent or guardian received payments on your behalf after 2003, you're still on the hook if the government says you are. It's a good thing this is an election year -- that miraculous time when congress critters get all interested in doing stuff for their constituents, and clamoring for press time to brag about same.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Case of the Millionaire Carpetbagger

Things are really starting to heat up in the 19th Congressional District of New York. Not only is an uber-wealthy political neophyte attempting to buy a seat, he just committed the ultimate faux pas. He refused to be interviewed by Politico! They came all the way up to his Ulster County HQ to talk to him, and the door was locked! Then they went to the private investment firm he started to loan money to local businesses to "create jobs" in this economically struggling backwater of a district. (full disclosure: I live here) And he wasn't in that office, either. So then they went to his palatial residence -- and they couldn't even get past the gates. 

It looked as though Sean Eldridge, like the hapless car salesman in Fargo, was "fleein' the interview."

Even before this brouhaha, I had been totally fired up about the mid-terms. My official choice this fall is between incumbent Chris Gibson, last year named the House's most liberal Republican, (yeah, what an oxymoron) and Democrat Sean Eldridge, the 20-something plutocratic arriviste who bought a luxury estate in a nearby town for $2 million cash so that he could then buy (oops, I mean "run for") Gibson's seat. He and his spouse, Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, had previously bought a different luxury estate in a downstate New York district to run against Tea Partier Nan Hayward, but that plan became moot once another wealthy Wall Street Street Democrat, also named Sean (Maloney), defeated her in 2012. Sean & Chris & Chris & Sean. The mind reels.

Like Politico, I have not yet met Sean E., but he, or maybe one of his many handlers, emails me constantly, urgently asking me if I got the last email asking me to sign another petition for immediate delivery to John Boehner, who no doubt will collapse in surrender upon reading it. Earlier this year, Sean the multimillionaire asked me to donate $5 to his campaign as a sign of my outrage over Congress's failure to extend federal unemployment benefits. One thing in Sean's favor is that he favors campaign finance reform. Which I suppose is an easy thing to favor if you're basically financing your own campaign.

I've looked for Sean around town, thinking maybe he'd be out and about, meeting and greeting, or maybe handing out glossy brochures in front of Stop N Shop. What I do see in front of Stop N Shop is a big (mostly empty) bin for any extra groceries people can spare for the hungry people who just got their food stamp stipends slashed in a fit of bonhomie by the millionaire Congress Sean aspires to join. So any spare change is going for peanut butter and Cheerios for my neighbors. Sorry, Sean. I cannot help you meet your goal by the magical midnight hour. Count yourself lucky, though, that you already scored your prince. You will never know how it feels to wake up in rags among rotting pumpkins.

Besides investing in entrepreneurs by loaning them his own personal money, Sean's idea of engaging with the community includes plunking down vast amounts of personal cash to feast at overpriced eateries in an overpriced tourist trap town up here called Woodstock, so as to help boost our struggling economy. And also by donating some unbelievably pricey 3-D printing technology to SUNY-New Paltz -- rather than, say, funding scholarships for needy indebted students, or helping sustain its excellent art and theater programs. Centrist Dems, as you know, are very keen on STEM training for those low-wage jobs of the future!

Plus, there is money to be made. The neoliberal venture also involves a $1 million state economic development grant from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as probable totally tax-exempt status for at least a decade courtesy of Cuomo's new "StartUpNY" public-private initiative. (Private profit at public expense. But jobs, jobs, jobs of the future!) Incidentally, the SUNY press release on Eldridge's investment makes absolutely no mention of his Congressional run.

Like me, maybe you were wondering if Sean Eldridge is too good to be true, or even if he really exists. Well, rest assured, he lives and breathes the same air as we do -- in 3-D, no less. Unfortunately, judging from this radio interview, he sounds like he borrowed all his canned talking points from Barack Obama. Words like future, skills, entrepreneurs, opportunity and gridlock fly fast and furious. Which is not surprising, seeing how he got his political start, while still in college,volunteering for Obama. He even met his future husband during the Obama campaign. But meanwhile, an empty suit channeling an empty suit does not bode well, despite having SKDKnickerbocker, a lobbying/PR firm run by former Obama adviser Anita Dunn, doing his publicity.

be fair, the Politico accusations of willful non-accessibility are sort of unfair. Because when Sean and his hubby first burst upon on the local scene, they graciously gave an exclusive interview to the New York Times. Had I not read about a person wanting to represent me on the front page of the Times, instead of, say, in the local weekly, I never would have known he existed. You can't imagine how fired up I became as I read this:
Two years ago, Sean Eldridge and his husband, the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, bought a $5 million estate in Garrison, about 50 miles north of New York City. It offered 80 acres of rolling fields and a farmhouse once owned by a Vanderbilt. It would also allow Mr. Eldridge, 26, to run for the local Congressional seat if he chose to.
But that seat appeared unattainable, and soon the couple’s gaze shifted north, to the neighboring district. In January, they bought a $2 million modern home here overlooking a reservoir, laying the groundwork for Mr. Eldridge’s campaign for their new local Congressional seat, New York’s 19th.
Word of Mr. Eldridge’s political plans has delighted the friends who make up his social circle: Donors to his exploratory committee include George Soros, the billionaire financier, and Sean Parker, the tech entrepreneur behind Napster and Spotify.
The locals, though? Not so much, apparently. It's really been a series of provincial faux pas for this plutocratic transplant to the provinces.  Before the awkward moment involving Politico, the first awkward moment was when he neglected to install a mailbox at the gates of his third residence, and his voter registration form was returned to the Elections Board as undeliverable. But in his Times interview, he convincingly scoffed at the notion that his move to rustic Ulster County had anything at all to do with personal political ambition:
“The Hudson Valley is my home,” he said. “It’s where I work. It’s where I got married.”
Mr. Eldridge said he and his husband, who also own a loft in SoHo in Manhattan, were settling into their new upstate home. He described a routine that includes grocery shopping and dining in Woodstock, the artsy enclave nearby. “We’re very involved in the community,” he said.
Mr. Eldridge’s supporters note that for all the trappings of wealth he now possesses, Mr. Eldridge grew up in a middle-class community in Ohio, where both of his parents were doctors; they say he has a genuine understanding of people of modest means.
And while the 19th District has vast stretches of rural, conservative communities, it is also home to more Democratic-leaning places, like New Paltz and Monticello, that could give his candidacy a lift.
“He clearly has a bright future,” said Mike Hein, a Democrat who is the Ulster County executive.
And that brings us to yet another faux pas in the unrelenting series. It seems Sean never bothered to personally call upon the Kingston (the county seat) mayor before he emailed him, casually asking for his endorsement. Mayor Shayne Gallo was neither amused nor impressed:
“I was extremely surprised, and I was offended,” he said. “I would think it would be prudent … if not politically polite and respectful, to reach out to those who’ve gone through this process and who are local yokels and who are stakeholders in the community you hope to represent.”
“Considering that someone isn’t from the area, wasn’t born or raised in the district, doesn’t have an established record in public or private service, nor any notable achievements in our local or regional economy … I’m very perplexed by that,” the mayor said.
OK, one more faux pas and I'll quit, I promise. When Sean Eldridge forked over that $750,000 for the 3-D printing venture in New Paltz, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street) was on hand to gush over the gift, but with the caveat that such technology has a worrisome tendency to be used for nefarious purposes, as in terrorists sneaking undetectable plastic guns past TSA gropers and onto airplanes.

And Sean responded, "Although there's no silver bullet for economic growth in the Hudson Valley, we believe that 3-D printing has tremendous potential to grow our economy, spark innovation and create jobs in the region." 

Plastic bullets, yes. Silver bullets, no. 

Plastic candidates? About a billion bucks a dozen.

Third Home a Charm?