Saturday, May 31, 2014

Your Weekly White House Wheeze

(Updated below)

President Obama has used a bunch of sick kids with breathing problems as the backdrop for his latest exercise in executive empathy. After delaying several EPA anti-pollution rules (for purposes of his own re-election) that might have  improved their lung function and prevented their hospitalizations in the first place, he's free at last to be airily concerned about the young asthmatics of America:
 Hi, everybody.  I’m here at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., visiting with some kids being treated here all the time for asthma and other breathing problems.  Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution – pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change.  And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.
How did his administration reduce sickness-causing pollution during his first term? By not doing much at all to reduce it. For the appeasement of such sociopaths as the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the American Petroleum Institute, the Obama White House delayed, for purely political purposes, more public health regulations than any prior administration. These included rules for coal ash disposal, mercury emissions, industrial boiler emissions, ozone levels, greenhouse gas pollution, silica dust in the workplace...  and carbon emissions.

Moreover, agencies were specifically instructed to present no new anti-pollution rules until Obama was safely re-esconced in the Oval Office.

And now that he has only a couple of years to go in his legacy-burnishing campaign of caring for the lung capacity of Americans, he's belatedly all fired up about those fired-up coal plants spewing their toxins and messing up the climate:
But for the sake of our children, we have to do more. 
This week, we will.  Today, about 40% of America’s carbon pollution comes from power plants.  But right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe. None. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water.  But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.  It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense. 
That’s why, a year ago, I directed the Environmental Protection Agency to build on the efforts of many states, cities, and companies, and come up with commonsense guidelines for reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants.  This week, we’re unveiling these proposed guidelines, which will cut down on the carbon pollution, smog, and soot that threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly.  In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided – and those numbers will go up from there.
Of course, all those asthma attacks and heart attacks could have been avoided long ago if the Obama White House hadn't decided that personal political fortunes trumped human lives and well-being. When an American Lung Association pulmonologist told then-Chief of Staff William Daley in 2011 that the vast majority of Americans favored stronger rules for clean air, the multimillionaire ex- Morgan Stanley banker famously retorted, "Fuck the polls!"

Obama then decided that thousands of premature deaths and thousands of new cases of pediatric asthma were well worth another four years in the White House. From the New York Times story on the controversy:
The standard for ozone was last set in 2008 by the Bush administration at a level of 75 parts per billion, above the range of 60 to 70 recommended by the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel at the time, but never enacted. Environmental and public health groups challenged the Bush standard in court, saying it would endanger human health and had been tainted by political interference. Smog levels have declined sharply over the last 40 years, but each incremental improvement comes at a significant cost to business and government.
So Ms. (ex-EPA chief Lisa) Jackson asked health and environmental groups to hold their lawsuit in abeyance while she reconsidered the ozone standard, a job she expected to complete by the summer of 2010. Until then, an outdated ozone standard of 84 parts per billion, set by the E.P.A. of the Bill Clinton administration in 1997, remained the law.
Delay followed delay until the spring of this year, when Ms. Jackson determined that the standard should be set at 65 parts per billion to meet the Clean Air Act’s requirement that it be protective of public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” At 65 parts per billion, the agency calculated, as many as 7,200 deaths, 11,000 emergency room visits and 38,000 acute cases of asthma would be avoided each year.
And then industry leaders and potential donors made Obama an offer he couldn't refuse. He'd lose votes and big money contributions if he made wealthy Job Creators feel insecure. And thus, the battleground states of The Heartland took precedence over heart attacks. Regulatory Czar Cass Sunstein (another Obama Harvard crony) decided that smog alleviation wasn't worth the alleged political cost. While he quietly withdrew 11 other anti-pollution rules from enactment, Obama's own very vocal rejection of the ozone standards was done in a manner specifically designed to placate Republicans and the polluter lobby. It was during this time that the White House was still in full-bore, post-Debt Ceiling fake crisis  austerity mode. Children's lungs were just going to have to serve as the scapegoat. The Obama people were pragmatically not going to let perfect pulmonary function be the enemy of their good:
“There was always a notion that they were looking for a regulation to use as an example of the reform initiative, a poster child, and this was potentially it,” said a senior E.P.A. official who asked not to be identified on a matter involving discussions with the White House. “We knew one was coming. We just didn’t know which one.”
And although Obama had blithely assured environmentalists and everybody interested in breathing that the ozone rules would be revisited in 2013, guess what happened once he was safely re-presiding in the Oval Office? The EPA has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, back into court by clean air advocates over its failure to act and submit the new standards Obama had promised. From the Huffington Post:
 A federal judge in Northern California has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must produce new draft standards for ground-level ozone pollution, the main component of smog, by December.
Paul Cort, a lawyer with Earthjustice, said the group is excited about the ruling but "disappointed that it took all of this effort to get here." Earthjustice had filed the case on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, American Lung Association and Natural Resources Defense Council.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Tuesday directed the EPA to issue its draft proposal by Dec. 1, 2014, and a final rule by Oct. 1, 2015.
Needless to say, Obama did not tell the kids at the Medical Center and the thousands of other kids hooked up to their life-saving home nebulizers who might have been listening that they'll have to breathe filthy air for at least a couple more years. 
To further add to the cringe factor, the Children's Medical Center at which Obama spoke is located smack dab in the middle of the fourth smoggiest city in the nation. But at least he had the decency to close his bedside pediatric chats to the press. There are still some limits to presidential pandering and exploitation, after all.

And blithely ignoring the fact that his vaunted EPA is now reduced to defending itself against gross ineptitude in a court of law, Obama gushed:
That’s why, a year ago, I directed the Environmental Protection Agency to build on the efforts of many states, cities, and companies, and come up with commonsense guidelines for reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants.  This week, we’re unveiling these proposed guidelines, which will cut down on the carbon pollution, smog, and soot that threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly.  In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided – and those numbers will go up from there.
Notice the careful parsing. He directed the EPA, with a wink and a nod, to cooperate with "companies" (i.e., sociopathic plutocrats) to come up with "common-sense" (i.e., weak) guidelines. This week he will roll out, with great self-serving fanfare, some "proposals" (as opposed to direct orders) to reduce morbidity and mortality.... someday.
These standards were created in an open and transparent way, with input from the business community.  States and local governments weighed in, too.  In fact, nearly a dozen states are already implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  And over 1,000 mayors have signed agreements to cut their cities’ carbon pollution. So the idea of setting higher standards to cut pollution at our power plants is not new.  It’s just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country.
The Business Community sure gave him input in an open and transparent way, back in 2011! And hooray for the market-based solutions. If folks can figure out a way to make a ton of dough by pretending to do right by the Breathing faction, then it's all cool. And yes, it is long past time for Washington (Barack Obama) to catch up with himself. The legacy is beckoning. The planet is heating up. The children are gasping.
Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy.  Let's face it, that’s what they always say. 

But every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health – the warnings of the cynics have been wrong.  They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business.  It didn’t.  Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing.
Hmm. Back in 2011, the Obama Administration itself had agreed that environmental guidelines would kill jobs and crush the economy. And, let's face it, crush Obama's hopes. Oh well.... at least he is finally obliquely admitting that he was a cynic, and that he was wrong. And even though Washington D.C. is the fourth smoggiest city in America, it is also the richest metropolitan area in America.... thanks in large part to the lucrative permanent media-political complex, the NSA and the Pentagon, and polluters' lobbying industry. The wealth of the richest One Percent does indeed keep growing. And growing. And growing. Like a malignant tumor that dies right along with the host.

As I wrote back in that glittery era of deficit hysteria and belt-tightening -- Tighten Up Your Bronchioles: You're in the O-Zone:
 As expected, President Obama has caved to his CEO buddies, and big business "job creators", and his boss John Boehner, and canned the EPA's new clean air standards.  Demanding respiratory health in an economic recession is just asking too much of the corporation persons, said the president in a Friday news dump.
I guess Malia and Sasha don't have asthma.  They don't live in inner cities, where substandard housing, mold and pollution are major contributors in raising the childhood asthma rate to historic levels.  The EPA estimates that without the tough new pollution standards that are now shelved, thousands more people will die of asthma attacks and exacerbation of respiratory diseases every year.  Emergency room visits will skyrocket. American morbidity and mortality rates will rise even further up the list of most unhealthy third world countries. Global warming is making pollution worse.
The 2014 version of Obama seems to have conveniently developed a memory deficit. His concern-trolling weekly address continues,
In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.  The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules.
As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.  The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way.  But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.  America will build that engine.  America will build the future.  A future that’s cleaner, more prosperous, and full of good jobs – a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.
In America, the ruling class has already made its choice. Money does indeed trump the health of ordinary people. And when the planet heats up and the oceans die and Sasha and Malia develop premature COPD, Daddy can always cynically look them in the eye and say at least he tried to give the appearance of trying.

Update, June 2: The New York Times has the official EPA announcement on carbon emissions reduction here. It's purely aspirational at this point.(no executive order from Obama on coal plants, in other words.) The year 2015 seems to be the go-to year for these reports, seeing how it's an off-election year. And the plan is flexible, so as to show due deference to the energy industry. And, it is guaranteed to unleash a torrent of polluted bribery cash the likes of which the fourth most polluted city in the nation probably has not yet seen. May sane and honest minds prevail.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


From the Department of Fooled You, Fooled You, Made You Look:
One week after the Obama administration said it would comply with a federal appeals court ruling ordering it to make public portions of a Justice Department memo that signed off on the targeted killing of a United States citizen, the administration is now asking the court for permission to censor additional passages of the document.
In the interim, the Senate voted narrowly last week to confirm David Barron, the former Justice Department official who was the memo’s principal author, to an appeals court judgeship. At least one Democratic senator who had opposed Mr. Barron over the secrecy surrounding his memo voted for him after the administration said it would release it.
Wasn't that the whole plan, right from the get-go?

Obama exterminates an American citizen (who, for some reason is deemed to have enjoyed a more valuable life than thousands of non-American drone victims) based upon a dubious legal rationale dreamed up by the former Justice flack, David Barron. The White House refuses to divulge its dubiousness. Senators pretend to refuse to confirm Barron until they can read the memo. Obama pretends to acquiesce. Barron is confirmed because, other than the sordid fact that he rubber-stamped state-sponsored murder, he's a real liberal guy. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden as much as proclaims that as long as we're told the reasons why the president has the right to kill us, then it must be all right to kill us. Transparent extermination trumps opaque extermination, or some such. 

Then, quick as a wink and a nod, Obama scurries back to court and says he'd crossed his fingers the whole time he was making that silly promise.

I guess it could have been worse. Because it turns out that the Obama administration had even tried to censor its latest censorship motion, lest its opacity be exposed. And the judge put her foot down on wrapping secrecy inside secrecy. Too many layers. So, while we still don't have the right to know the president's reasons for killing us, we are nonetheless graciously allowed to know that he is a conniving promise-breaker. And that the Senators who pretend to be for civil liberties are mere partisan hacks.

From the New York Times article by Charlie Savage:
The 41-page memo, dated July 16, 2010, cleared the way for a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011 that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused by intelligence officials of plotting terrorist attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times are seeking the memo’s public disclosure in lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Justice Department said it would soon disclose a version of the memo with the additional passages it wants to keep redacted blacked out. It said the additional passages discussed classified facts, not legal reasoning.
Who needs facts? They have such a factual bias. Legal minds can still churn out perfectly efficient opinions in a fact-free vacuum.
Last week, the administration said that Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. had decided to release the memo but would file a limited appeal to keep some facts redacted in the final public version of the court’s ruling. Among the information redacted in the ruling is the identity of an agency, in addition to the Defense Department, that had an operational role in the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki. Although it is widely known that the C.I.A. operates drones, including from a base in Saudi Arabia, and that it participated in the operation that killed Mr. Awlaki, the Obama administration still officially treats that information as secret.
Since the Obama administration can't even admit that it uses the CIA as an assassination squad, I can hardly wait to see the 6,000-page Senate investigative report on CIA torture. Since Obama inexplicably placed this damning report in the hands of the CIA torturers themselves for redaction purposes, what should be a black mark on the spy agency will instead be transformed into a sea of black Magic Marker ink.

When parts of the report were leaked to McClatchy Newspapers anyway, Dianne Feinstein predictably called for the prosecution of the leaker instead of the actual torturers. I guess Obama must have apologized to her, after all, since her staged hissy fit on the Senate floor about not being kept in the secret loop.

It was all just a little hacking misunderstanding between hacks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

His Twisted World

If the Santa Barbara killer had managed to survive what he called his "day of retribution," I think it's a safe bet that some high-priced Beverly Hills lawyer would already be invoking the Affluenza Defense right about now. The differential diagnosis would be Peter Pan Psychosis, or in layman's terms, severe Arrested Development.

Spoiled, entitled brat does not even begin to describe Elliot Rodger. And even allowing for the fact that he is obviously an "unreliable narrator" of his own "My Twisted World" life story, the fact that his killing spree was financed by indulgent parents can't be ignored. He didn't get the thick wads of cash to purchase his high-tech weaponry, or the luxury BMW he used to mow down some of his victims, from a part-time job or student loans.

CNN now reports that the parents were living above their means, deeply in debt, and that they had to scrimp and save to provide him with such bare necessities as a used luxury car and even occasionally forced to downgrade to economy class flights to exotic destinations.

He hated women, yes. There was no Wendy in his world. He gazed with contempt upon minorities who presumed to socialize within his physical milieu.  ("I was descended from British aristocracy. He was descended from slaves.") After all, he'd been brought up with minority women as his servants. He actually had an African-American nanny looking after him well into his teens, if you can believe his memoir. The psychological help that his parents are so widely praised as providing for him included "life coaches" and "socialization facilitators" as well as the standard pill-pushers.

It sounds so California. It rings so decadently true.  

Above all, this guy was a snob who believed that if only he was a multimillionaire, he would become a babe magnet. It seems to never to have occurred to him to make the first move, to exert himself, to use the charm offensive with the opposite sex. A smooth Ted Bundy-type predator he was not. He hated guys his age whom he perceived to be "scoring" as much as he hated the girls he perceived to be spurning him.

I read his 140-page poor little rich boy "manifesto" in its entirety. It's a cautionary tale of the cruelty of parental over-indulgence and neglect as practiced upon a budding psychopath. It could even be a script for a remake of Heathers, as told by V.C. Andrews, without the black comedy. (The kid's father was a Hollywood scriptwriter, so creativity must run in the family.)

"Mother always got me what I wanted, right when I wanted it," writes Rodger. "At Mother's house, all my needs were met with excellent precision."

Among his many needs were having his hair dyed blond at age nine, and unsupervised all-nighters at Planet Cyber, a gaming arcade, at age 13. 

He life, even if you believe only a tenth of what he wrote, was a whirlwind of exotic vacations, luxury homes, designer clothes and expensive toys. There's enough detail to make it sound plausible.

His greatest angst, toward the end of his life, was that although he was rich, he was not as obscenely rich as some of his peers. His mother, he fumed, refused to advance his class status by marrying into big money after his parents' divorce. There was even a hated stepmother who stars in a European version of Real Housewives. Despite spending thousands of dollars on Powerball lottery tickets, he never hit the jackpot. And so he despaired:

"If I could have become a multimillionaire at a young age, then my lifestyle would instantly become better than most people my age. I would be able to get revenge on my enemies just by living above them and lording it over them."

And this, about the last in a lifelong series of luxury vacations:

"I have always had a penchant for luxury and opulence and prestige, and traveling on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class would give me that experience, if only for a short time.... As holders of first class tickets, we skipped to the front of the line as we boarded the plane, and I took great satisfaction as I passed by all of the other people who flew Economy, giving all the younger passengers a cocky little smirk when they looked at me."

The whole manifesto, memoir, true confession  -- whatever you want to call it -- reads like this. A screen treatment, a storyboard, a script, complete with descriptions of facial expressions. A parody of the class war and the normalization of sociopathic greed.

If this guy had been just a bit more stable, and a little more patient, he would have done extremely well on Wall Street. Or Hollywood. Or Washington. Or wherever the military-industrial complex provides a socially acceptable outlet for greedy misogynists with a gun fetish.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Rich Are Reassured

Just hours before the release of some not so shocking revelations that the government had essentially started a whole separate anti-Occupy branch, spying on lefties like there was no tomorrow for plutocrats, President Obama was again assuring the plutocrats that there's no such thing as an establishment left wing anyway.

Single payer health care? That's insane! Higher taxes on the rich to remedy record wealth disparity? Him, become enthralled by that Thomas Picketty tome? Fuggedaboutit.

Blowing wind at the home of wind energy tycoon Michael Polsky last Thursday night, Obama did bestow one big moment of truth when he told his big-buck donors: (all bolds are mine)
But whenever I come to Chicago and I see great friends, it reminds me of why I got into politics -- because a lot of people here played a role in me becoming a state senator, becoming a U.S. senator, and ultimately becoming President.
I know that the Manilows are here, for example.  They hosted something for me when nobody knew me.  And they’re just one of many people here who have tracked my career.  And the values I carried with me to the White House are the values that so many of you taught me.
At home in Chicago, Obama could finally relax enough to drop the act. Rich people and their money are the reason he got into politics. Rich people and their values --not regular people and their crises -- are what keep him going. There, he said it.

The Manilows, "just one of many people," are among the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) clique that bankrolled Obama's rapid rise. Ten years ago, when he was still insisting he wouldn't run for president in 2008, the FIRE sector saw a golden opportunity in their candidate. Here was a black Democratic fig leaf making friends with such Senate fiscal conservatives as Tom Coburn and Sam Brownback! How the dollar signs must have flashed in their brains. From an ancient article in Chicago City Life:
By one line of thinking, an African American on the ticket in 2008 might excite the minority and liberal bases of the party enough to tip the vote. “What you get with Barack Obama is an extra few [percentage] points [of the vote] generated by additional minority voters and white suburbanites,” says Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who is often quoted on national politics. “Supporting an articulate, polished African American candidate like Obama almost becomes a badge of a suburbanite’s honor: ‘Look at me-I’m racially progressive.’”
In this view, a black candidate might become the Democrats’ key to making decisive gains in traditionally Republican white suburbs. As Lewis Manilow, the former Chicago developer and major Democratic donor and fundraiser, observes, Obama’s “two constituencies” in 2004 were “the black community and I guess what you would call suburban women.”
Read the whole trial balloon of an article and laugh. Or weep, as the case may be. The part where a humble-bragging Obama claims to be an instrument of God's will should have been a red flag. Especially since it was accompanied by a highly stylized portfolio of photos:

Straight from Centrist Casting: Young Mr. Obama

Fast forward a decade, and here was President Obama back on his home turf, schmoozing with the same casting couch financiers who gave him his first big break. He reassured them in no uncertain terms that all this recent populist talk about wealth inequality is just part of the narrative. He still has their backs:
 And when I first came into office, obviously we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, losing 800,000 jobs a month.  Over the last four years, we've created 9.5 million jobs.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate has come down and housing has recovered.  The auto industry has come back. The deficits have been cut in half.  We have dug our way out of the rubble of that crisis.
You're all doing just fine, Job Creators. Applause, applause for arising from the rubble of your own creation and grabbing a greater than 90% share of what the financial sector destroyed during the Great Meltdown of Aught-Eight. Austerity worked for rich people like you. The deficits, which only the rich pretend to care about, were cut in half. Wages are stagnating while your own profits continue to soar. We bailed out Wall Street, we bailed out General Motors. That both have behaved badly ever since is moot. Pay no attention to that Thomas Picketty fellow and his suggested global wealth tax. Obama isn't.

Warning: now here comes the standard Obama pivot, followed by the standard Obama deflection. First, the pivot in which the president dutifully and truthily recites all that is wrong with our sick society (in neoliberal-speak, social ills are defined as "challenges" that they're perpetually trying to overcome.)
 The challenge we have, though, is that for too many families around the country, that recovery has not translated into higher incomes or higher wages.  We’re still having trouble making sure that they can finance a child’s college education.  We're still trying to figure out, how am I going to retire.  There are still too many people out of work, and there are too many folks who are working full-time but at the end of the month have a tough time paying the bills.  We still have challenges making sure that every child in America is getting a first-class education.  And we still have challenges with an immigration system that is broken and depriving us of enormous talent -- one of our greatest strengths as a country.  Climate change remains a generational challenge that we've got to tackle boldly.  And, unfortunately, we've got a Congress that right now just can't seem to get anything done.
In case you missed it, right there was the part where Obama humanizes the plutocrats by inviting them to pretend to feel the pain of the masses for a minute. And even though their greed is at the root of all evil inflicted on the masses, why don't we.... blame it on the very same Congress they bankroll instead! Also, let's blame it on the mass media conglomerates, which they also bankroll to spread the gridlock myth. The deflection:
Now, you'll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible.  And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses.  But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.  We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don't think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you're not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.
All very true, despite the fact that Obama got where he is today by schmoozing with the self-same Republican ideologues and compromising with the "folks" the minute he was elected on a wave of populism with majorities in both Houses. It was almost as if he were apologizing to the right wingers for beating them. It was almost as if he felt guilty for beating them. It was almost as if he couldn't wait to start beating up on the desperate people who voted for him.

And then there's the part he forgot to mention: that the "gridlock" has a way of miraculously disappearing when it comes to rewarding the rich and powerful, funding the eternal war machine, and ensuring that his ability to destroy Occupy camps and drone at will is unimpeded. Remember when the bipartisan-forged sequester magically got lifted for air traffic controllers, so that the rich in their Lear jets would not be inconvenienced at the same rate as impoverished cancer patients awaiting chemo and poor urban children awaiting Head Start?

And on the same day that Obama was moaning about phony gridlock and nasty Republicans, his minions were busy strong-arming Congress to water down the NSA reform legislation. When it comes to spying on ordinary citizens, his administration is as rigid and paranoid as they come.

He continued to reassure the fabulously wealthy donors that pretend-left Democrats are consistently on their side: 
 So the problem is not Dick Durbin.  The problem is not Michael Bennet.  The problem is not that the Democrats are overly ideological -- because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.  There are no radical proposals coming out from the left.  When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy.  When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism.  We say we're going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together, and that we're attracting talent like Michael who constantly replenish the American Dream.
Uh-oh. Whenever you hear the neoliberal word "incentivize," run for the hills. See Paul Krugman's recent blog-post decrying this linguistic atrocity, along with its cousin, "impact" when used as a verb. Funny that Krugman is under the impression that such mangluage is restricted to Ivy League students.

But anyhow --  the "innovative" (another fave neoliberal word) way Obama is working to keep immigrant families together is to deport whole branches them in the highest numbers in history. Heaven forbid that Democrats can't be as "tough on the borders" as the Republican haters. Because, Yes. He. Can. Because, drones, troops, guns, and enrichment of the Military Industrial Complex. And anyhow -- market-based, incentivized immigration reform entails importing cheaper tech labor. It's attracting low-wage talent from other third world countries.  It hasn't got much to do with the attractive talents of Mexicans already laboring away in our pastures of plenty for slave wages and no benefits. And being slammed into for-profit private detention centers when the first phase of their usefulness comes to an end. 

And climate change? Democrats will go so far as admitting it exists and tepidly recommend some useless cap and trade legislation, but other than that, frack and drill till the earth literally quakes, the air is heated up by methane, and the water is poisoned as the seas inexorably rise. Because no Democrat is suggesting conserving fuel by car-pooling or cutting down on driving, or living in smaller, energy-efficient homes. That would be downright, unprofitably socialist. 

The president was actually getting some accolades (here, here) for finally blasting the false equivalence theatrics of the mainstream media, in which "both sides" are blamed for whatever ails us. The pundits, he fumed at the soiree, are spewing the ridiculous lie that his faction is the extreme opposite of the Tea Party! 

But as he himself proudly admitted,  there are certainly no "radical" proposals from the nonexistent Democratic Left, like scrapping the cap on FICA Social Security taxes, starting a New Deal-like government jobs program to combat the scourge of unemployment, insisting on a living wage (not to be confused with the token $10.10 fakery), defending labor unions to the death, imposing a transaction tax on Wall Street, forgiving student loans, forgiving mortgage debt, and just about any social program that would put people over profits. Because in free market, for-profit ObamaWorld, that would be just way too extremist.

No way are the ruling elites of 21st century USA even remotely tempted to emulate social programs as they currently exist in much of Europe.  Paul Krugman points out in his latest column that constant bashing by the American right wing of the welfare state leads to the mistaken impression that Europe is on the verge of collapse. But surprise, surprise: "French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts".  

My "reader comment" on Krugman's column: 
The very word "welfare" is fraught with paranoid elite visions of poor people breathing somewhere and not paying for the oxygen. And that's why the Paul Ryans of the world use it with such abandon. It sounds worse than what France actually calls its own safety net -- "Protection sociale".
In certain humane spots on the globe, "All for one and one for all" is more than a rallying cry in a Dumas novel.
And here we are in America, 50 years after LBJ's Great Society speech. Universal French-style health care, free education, paid maternal and sick leave, cash assistance to the poor? Anathema to both austerian political parties, beholden as they are to the plutocracy. The GOP plays the part of Snidely Whiplash, while the Dems are Dudley Do-Right (emphasis on the Dud and moving further Right all the time.)
So they fund-raise off a tepid $10.10 minimum wage, ignoring the humanitarian crisis of unemployment, and sentence a whole lost generation to short, brutish, indebted lives.
And while they're pandering for votes, last week came word that the surveillance state had cast a spying dragnet over Occupy activists who dared rally for social justice.
And meanwhile, McWorkers (whose CEO boss makes 1000 times their average salary) were arrested en masse for demanding $15 an hour. How fitting that the cuffs were slapped on just down the block from "Hamburger University." Because it has become painfully obvious that the power elites view all of us as so much chopped meat.
But, back to Obama's speech at the Chicago fund-raiser, held the very next night after the Chicago arrests of the McDonalds employees:
 When we talk about taxes we don't say we're going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago.  We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education, so that struggling middle-class families are able to finance their education, and that if a talented young person wants to go into teaching or wants to become a social worker that they’re not burdened by hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.
Shades, again, of rich people like him being instruments of God. Did you ever notice how obscenely rich people often say they got that way by being "blessed," instead of by being greedy grasping assholes? And this whole spiel about not burdening students with debt is just too, too much. No word about arrests of workers exercising their rights of free speech. No word about the government getting rich off student loans. No word about university CEOs getting rich off poor students and adjunct faculty members. No endorsement of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to lend students money at the same near-0% rate that the Fed charges the big banks.

Obama continued blasting the false equivalence, and reassuring the plutocrats: 
Health care -- we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system.  All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts -- the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.
Single payer non-profit payer health care would be just totally insane! It would be absolutely crazy for God-blessed people like them to give up profiting off other people's misery. It would be nuts if we joined the rest of the civilized world and declared that health care is a right and not a privilege. Yes, he "said" everybody would have insurance under Obamacare. What he didn't say is that 30 million Americans will remain uninsured by design, and those who do purchase plans can still go bankrupt because of high deductibles and co-pays. I mean, come on. He bitches that he out-Republicans the Republicans and can't get no respect. Sheesh.

So, he told his donors, the only solution is to vote out all the Republicans so we can keep out-Republicanning them. Radical.

Obama is perfectly happy to keep the conversation where it belongs -- the fake food fight between the two similar factions of the Big Money Party. His job is to deflect the conversation from the real war -- the class war, the war of Big Money interests and unfettered capitalism against the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Opacity of Trope

As if we needed any more clear and convincing evidence of the complete collapse of morality in American politics, there's this from the New York Times:
Facing the potential defeat of an appeals court nominee, the Obama administration decided Tuesday to publicly release much of a classified memo written by the nominee that signed off on the targeted killing an American accused of being a terrorist.
The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., made the call to release the secret memo — and not appeal a court order requiring its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act — and informed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. of his decision this week, according to two administration officials.
The White House was informed Tuesday. But the memo will not be released right away because officials said they needed time to redact it and to prepare an appeal asking the court not to reveal classified sections of a federal appeals court ruling last month requiring that most of the memo be made public.
Everybody from civil rights groups like the ACLU to media watchdogs like the (ahem) New York Times has been clamoring for years to have the alleged justification for President Obama's drone assassination of Muslim cleric Anwar al Awlaki made public. The Obama administration has fought back for years, citing the usual feeble excuse of "national security" for keeping its rationale for murder secret.

But now that the nomination to the federal bench of Donald Barron (the Harvard crony who wrote the "legal opinion")  is in jeopardy, the president will deign, after all, to release a censored version of it. It seems that the credibility of a couple of Democratic senators who've been clamoring for years to get the information hangs in the balance. They would look like utter hypocrites if they approved Obama's guy without making at least a show of demanding the secret opinion. (And forget the Republicans -- they're bitching that Barron is still too liberal, despite the blood on his hands.)

 So, while we're waiting for Obama and Holder to stock up on their black Magic Markers, Democrats are prematurely and quite unbelievably proclaiming victory:
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, who is locked in a close re-election fight, had said he could not support the nomination if the White House did not release some of his legal opinions. After the administration’s announcement on Tuesday, he said he was “now able to support the nomination of David Barron.”
“This is a welcome development for government transparency and affirms that although the government does have the right to keep national security secrets, it does not get to have secret law,” Mr. Udall said. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, called the decision “a very constructive step.”
So, all will be well in the cosseted little world of senatorial civil liberties concern-trolling if the trope looks something like this: 

Based upon the foregoing and subject to the additional qualifications set forth below, we are of the opinion that:
            1.         The Company is validly existing as a corporation[1] and in good standing under Delaware law and is qualified as a foreign corporation and in good standing in [California].

 2.         The President has the corporate power to execute and deliver the Transaction Documents[2] in which it is named as a party and to perform its obligations thereunder.[3]

 3.         The President has duly authorized, executed and delivered the Transaction Documents in which it is named as a party, and such Transaction Documents constitute its valid and binding obligations[4] enforceable against it in accordance with their terms b 

Signed, Irving Washington, Attorney At Law.

Here is my Times comment:

Unless the memo also releases clear and convincing evidence that Anwar al Awlaki was planning an imminent attack, this "legal" opinion is not worth the paper it's written on.

I suspect the reason that the Obama administration has fought so long and so hard against its release is that such evidence is flimsy at best, nonexistent at worst. There's not even proof that Al Awlaki was a senior Qaeda operative. He published a magazine that apparently inspired the Fort Hood shooter, so the US government decreed he had to be neutralized. His due process arrest and trial would probably have inflamed too many of his followers. And it was likely a weak case, bound to open up a whole can of CIA/FBI worms.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill has revealed that Al Awlaki was a moderate imam before the FBI began hounding him, post-9/11, in hopes of getting him to turn informant on his fellow Muslims. After he fled the country to escape the harassment, he was thrown in a Yemeni jail without charge and without trial, where he languished for 18 months. It was there that he became radicalized.

It surprises me that the two Democratic senators now proclaim themselves satisfied with a bit of nontransparent transparency they have yet to see. Do you mean to tell me that as long as a memo is released, the contents or lack thereof don't matter and this man will sail on to confirmation?

Does the fact that he is "otherwise liberal" justify his apparent disregard for the Bill of Rights?

And in response to another commenter taking issue with my insinuation that had Awlaki constituted a real threat, his killing would have been justified:

The key phrase is "imminent threat" -- and so far, there is absolutely no evidence that Awlaki was on the verge of causing immediate harm to anyone. If he had, for example, been detected driving toward a crowded public place with a truck full of explosives, then taking him out with a Tomahawk missile obviously would have been justified. He would have been *planning* to carry out an atrocity. It's the same premise that justifies police neutralizing an active shooter or anyone immediately threatening to inflict grievous bodily harm to another. This is the exception to due process.

All indications are that the Obama administration sentenced this man to death based on their own paranoia and thirst for vengeance. Their esteemed intelligence community had displayed gross incompetence in failing to detect and stop the Fort Hood psychiatrist. They needed a scapegoat.

If they have anything implicating Awlaki other than his rhetoric, they should furnish it to the public along with their self-serving legal memo.

Since they have not already done so speaks volumes.


In the end, it all devolves into slimy politics. All they need is a trope, a literary device, some pretty redacted language as window dressing to absolve themselves as accessories to coldblooded, state-sponsored murder.

With a new Judge Barron now only a step away from a Supreme Court appointment, tell me again why it's incumbent to elect a Democratic president over a Republican. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sucked Into Vortex Theater

It's memoir season. It's celebrity elevator fights and office intrigue season. It's the overlapping of the acts in never-ending presidential campaign season theater season. Contenders for high office fall all over themselves pretending to be for the little guy, while actual presidents  no longer need even pretend to be for the little guy. Instead, they're in campaign mode for impending Private Life as they openly play golf with vulture capitalists and give speeches at Walmart and praise financial predators for their social impact efforts. (And to stave off the lame duck boredom, still enjoy the power to order drone strikes and plot coups during normal business hours.)

First, the memoirs. I've listened to Elizabeth Warren read her own book (she also wrote it herself, judging from the emotion behind every single word. I don't know how she can maintain the outrage without exploding.) I've listened to an excerpt from Hillary Clinton's memoir (she got a lot of scripting help, judging from the robotic flow of the few words she's teased us with with so far.) I am avoiding Timothy Geithner's book, because the avoidance of Timothy Geithner in all his manifestations is probably a mentally healthy thing to do. But judging from the reviews, his tome is destined for the bargain bins, even as he pockets his outrageous advance and speaking fees and mirthlessly chuckles all the way back to the bank.

As much as I want to root for Jill Abramson, the deposed New York Times editor, I simply cannot whip myself into a froth of outrage over her firing. For despite her shoddy treatment at the hands of a trust fund brat and a whole cavalcade of snivelling men in suits, her own hands are dirty. Most recently, she has overseen  the paper's disgraceful stenographic coverage of the US-sponsored coup in Ukraine and the publication of phony photographic evidence backing it up. She did not order a retraction or issue an apology. So, I can think of plenty of other downtrodden women to root for besides a multimillionaire who will not have to apply for food stamps as she juggles the myriad offers.

It's kind of the the same feeling I get now that Hillary Clinton's mental status and age are being openly questioned by Turd Blossom Rove. The pseudo-liberal female chorus erupts into new stanzas of "You Go Girl!"  I can think of plenty of other role models for vicarious victimhood besides a woman raking in millions in book deals and Goldman Sachs speeches.

It's like the suffocating feeling I got when I read the latest drama critique from Times columnist Frank Bruni, who today pontificates on Hillary's obstacle course while ironically complaining about the coverage swirling like an F-0 tornado all over the mass media landscape.  Such columns, of course, elicit standard partisan outrage and a rousing chorus of "You Go Girl!" with the Lesser Evilism 2012 back-up singers of "Supreme Court, Hold Your Nose!" fame.

I couldn't take it any more. I couldn't seem to help myself. I got sucked into the swirling maelstrom of meaninglessness. I jumped in with a Reader Comment:
"Hard Choices" -- the title of her forthcoming memoir -- should also be our first clue about what a Clinton third term forebodes. Because "hard choices" is also the common euphemism employed by the plutocratic deficit hawks from both parties to describe the planned gutting of FDR's New Deal and other social programs. As in, "you common folk have to make the hard choice to trim Social Security benefits so as not to rob future generations, while we oligarchs make the hard choice of reaping all the benefits."
Hillary, judging from the age of her recently deceased mother and her gold-plated health insurance, should live long and prosper.
Meanwhile, something she said recently should have us asking the tough questions about the hard choices:
"The 1990s taught us that even in the face of difficult, long-term economic trends, it is possible, through smart policies and sound investments, to enjoy broad-based growth and shared prosperity."
Long on platitudes, short on substance. Nothing, for instance, on taxing the rich or reining in the too big to fail/jail banks. The 90s brought us the end of direct aid to the poor and the reckless repeal of Glass-Steagall, which led directly to financial catastrophe, mass foreclosures and unemployment. The so-called Clinton boom years were a bubble.

Hillary has obstacles from her past, all right. They're named Rubin, Greenspan, Summers, and NAFTA.

Her present obstacles include Warren, Sanders, and the lingering power of the Occupy movement.
Mark Leibovich, who wrote his own memoir ("This Town")  of Beltway intrigue as practiced by the rich and shallow, has now written a bitingly hilarious preview of the Clinton opus. Here's an excerpt:
Hard Choices” was no doubt similarly prosecuted into existence by an army of ghostwriters, editors, researchers, fact-checkers and “superlawyers” who have presumably weeded out the tiniest specks of Benghazi cover-up catnip, bitterness over 2008, discord with Bill or second-guessing of Obama-Biden in the White House. Even if its newsworthy revelations are negligible, the “rollout” in advance of its June 10 release date will be staged at Normandy levels of intensity. There will be the requisite negotiations and strategic media “leaking” and the parceling out of “exclusives” like, say, the testimonial for Hillary’s late mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, which landed in Vogue just in time for Mother’s Day.
 “Hard Choices” also seems to borrow from another trope of its species. Regardless of what the author has accomplished, in the self-mythologizing world of Memoir Land, a life is cast as a riveting series of pivotal moments — choices, calls, decisions, things requiring courage. Politicians love to fetishize themselves as the makers of really tough decisions, befitting their leaderly burdens, as if no one else in the world has ever had to pick between unsavory outcomes. These sagas place the protagonists in a special class of “decider,” to use the term popularized by George W. Bush, author of a memoir, “Decision Points.”
If you're looking for a genuinely gripping and ripping good read, meanwhile, I plugged one in my comment on Paul Krugman's own review of Timothy Geithner's memoir yesterday:
One of Geithner's most ridiculous conceits is that he was a "public servant" and not a creature of Wall Street. As president of the powerful N.Y. Fed, he was, in fact, a banker's banker, the fox who guarded the henhouse, the guy that the sociopaths of finance could rely on. And given the deregulation spree that had gained steam under Reagan, loaded up on steroids under Clinton, and turned into an imperialistic blood-bath under Bush, collapse was inevitable.
As Nomi Prins lays out in her excellent book, "All the President's Bankers," when the Fed was first dreamed up by the original savvy robber barons after a panic in the last gilded age, its mandate to ease unemployment was a fig leaf to ensure congressional approval. It wasn't meant to be taken seriously, then or now.
From 2002 to 2007, says Prins, the biggest US banks created nearly 80 percent of $14 trillion worth of global mortgage backed securities, asset backed securities, collateralized debt obligations and other toxic brews. Yet, in a 2004 report, Geithner assured everybody there was no risk of a housing bubble.
And when it all went kaboom, he blasted right into the White House, failing upward just like the rest of his cohort. He ensured, as Elizabeth Warren tells it in her own truthful book, that TARP "foamed the runway" so the banks could spread out foreclosures, thus doubly victimizing the public.
Bankers are richer than ever, more reckless than ever. The next big crash is not a matter of if, but when.
So, Krugman is finally implicitly criticizing the Obama administration. So, the Democratic strategy seems to be going something like this:

Play up the inequality angle for all it's worth. Ignore Obama, and let Warren run wild through the mid-terms in hopes of Democratic sellouts squeaking through to victory on her coattails and fundraising acumen. Put Michelle and Eric Holder out there as born-again civil rights leaders to drum up enthusiasm from disaffected civil rights nostalgia buffs. To avoid appearances of a coronation, perhaps let Warren or Bernie Sanders pretend to mount a primary challenge. Hillary will pretend to be pushed left, perhaps even tapping Warren as her running mate and thus restoring the credibility of the Democratic Party.  Assuming she does, and she wins, what better way to neuter Warren and get her off her anti-banker soapbox  and onto a very short Clinton leash, soon to be assimilated into the Clinton vortex.

Must. Resist. The. Suck.