Monday, June 30, 2014

Supremes Being Supreme: Feudalism Edition

So the neoliberals and the theocrats had a torrid affair and just gave birth to a great, big, fascist monstrosity.

The black-robed Inquisition known as the Supreme Court has blessed the anti-union union and officiated at the baptism.

There shalt not be any Obamacare-subsidized birth control for you, ladies, and guaranteed living wage, benefits and union rights just got a swift kick in the ass for good measure. And Goddess help you if you happen to work as a home health aide in a Christian family-owned agency in the Land of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. You will not only have to continue working as a drudge in the New Servant Economy till you die, but you will have to risk pregnancy while doing so. And since your collective bargaining powers are kaput, there's even a chance you'll have to be working, pregnant and barefoot. Shoes for the kids will trump shoes for yourselves.

And if you're taking it into your pretty little heads to do an end run around the court ruling, and traipse on over to one of the Planned Parenthood clinics still standing in order to score yourselves some cheap contraception, think again. Those people with their anti-abortion signs are watching you, too.... from inches away, thanks to a unanimous ruling by both liberal and conservative justices on the court.

 Since contraception has, essentially, now been equated with abortion in many an ignorant, narrow Unhobbled Lobby of a little mind, the Inquisitors-for-Life have duly decreed that an egg not ovulated is an egg condemned. 

And whoever said that conservatives don't believe in immigration reform is nuts. Tear down that contraceptive wall  between ovary and uterus!  Give every egg that is willing to work hard and play by the rules a free fallopian tube pathway to full American citizenship. The waiting period is only nine months -- and from then on, the survivors will enjoy a lifetime of low-wage non-union jobs, or a one-way school-to-private prison pipeline, leaking oil and gas pipelines, an opportunity to serve in the forever wars.... oh, and the freedom not to be insured for birth control themselves.

And lucky you: if ever the cops stop you in your travels to hell and back, they still won't be able to search your cell phones without a warrant. The Supremes may be immune from protesters, thanks to their own buffer zones, but they do have cell phones, apparently. They also get paid enough to afford cable TV, since they just ruled against against that much more affordable Aereo cloud service provider. They must have figured that if a TV network can't double-charge consumers via forced ad-watching and cable fees, it amounts to a slap in the face of the Market God (and the Market God, remember, has just been decreed a person with religious rights.)

But there is actually some good news on the horizon if you are a non-corporate person living in the Feudal States of America. That whole three-part balance of powers edifice has become so top-heavy with One Percent influence that it's beginning to crumble from the cracks of populist outrage. The American Way of Government is losing its legitimacy. The American People are becoming apostates and losing their faith in all three branches of the Unholy Trinity!!!

From a Gallup poll released simultaneously with today's Supreme Auto-da-fé:
Americans' confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30%) and Congress (7%), and a six-year low for the presidency (29%). The presidency had the largest drop of the three branches this year, down seven percentage points from its previous rating of 36%.

It's only when governments begin to lose their legitimacy, when the whole edifice starts to crack, that populist movements can take hold in order to effect change. The unanswered question is whether Crumble-vania will veer even further right and slide off the fascist cliff, or whether the Left can awaken as it did during the previous social upheavals of the 30s (New Deal) and 60s (Great Society.)

Let us pray for the latter scenario. And let us hope that this constant chipping-away at Obamacare will, ironically, create a new pathway to true universal health care. The apostates at the gate are demanding it.

Hell Is Empty & All the Mercenaries Are Here

It's even worse than we imagined. A private mercenary force ostensibly working for the US Government issued a direct death threat against a US Government investigator, and then the US Government essentially turned tail and ran away in abject fear, leaving the private mercenary force behind in Iraq to kill at will.

As usual, the wrong people are in jail (namely, Iraq War whistle-blower Chelsea Manning). And ironically enough, the reporter who broke this blockbuster Blackwater death threat story is himself now facing jail time for the crime of committing journalism and refusing to divulge a source. From James Risen of the New York Times:
Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
Blackwater has since changed its name a couple of times, but it's still very much in business. At least the Nisour Square shooters are finally on trial in Washington. It was because the massacre had gone unprosecuted by the US Government that Iraq had refused to allow American military forces to remain in the country after the "official" war ended. So, do you suppose that this belated prosecution could represent the US Government's too-little, too-late attempt to get back into the hell of its own creation for more mayhem?

Meanwhile, the Bushies have a lot of explaining to do. Namely, former Secretary of State Condi Rice, who was at the helm when the death threat against one of her own investigators was swept under the rug.

And also, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who continued to use the services of Blackwater under one of its creepy new names, "Reflex Responses." (This does kind of admit that they shoot first and ask questions later -- if, that is, their brains actually harbor a rudimentary moral compass) There was that little matter of Hillary looking the other way as former Blackwater owner Erik Prince had recruited mercenaries from the jungles of Colombia to start a private army for a potentate in the United Arab Emirates. Ironically enough (again!) it was Chelsea Manning who'd tipped off "Dirty Wars" journalist Jeremy Scahill about Prince's latest independent military antics in the Middle East.

Hillary and Erik at one time even shared the same P.R. rep: Mark Penn.

Manning is in jail. Risen may be going to jail. The Bush war criminals roam free. And Hillary is inevitable.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Emperor of Ice Cream

It's the presidential summer of comfort food love. 

In the cruel absence of any economic relief for struggling Americans, and in the sordid presence of too much economic relief for the war profiteers of the global battlefield, Barack Obama is doing what he does best. He's out campaigning, mingling with the masses, and ... eating. Scarfing down gallons of soft vanilla ice cream and all-American burgers for our vicarious pleasure. To show that He Is One Of Us. To make us forget his alter egos of Emperor of Drones, Friend of Wall Street, and Deporter-in-Chief of thousands of refugee children and their families.

He poked the Grand Old Party in the eye by whipping into the Grand Old Creamery during a campaign stop last week. He even, according to The Hill, cynically played at placating the sycophantic press corps by plying them with fatty sweets:
"Press, you guys want some? On me. No? Is that unethical?” Obama asked reporters who accompanied him to the Grand Ole Creamery, a Twin Cities chain. “I’m trying to soften you up.”
 Obama told employees of the shop that one of his first jobs was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins — eliciting a groan from the workers at the rival parlor.
“No, the point is that my first job was scooping ice cream,” Obama said. “One of you might be president.”
The president ordered a scoop of Black Hills Gold, a caramel-based ice cream with pralines and cookies, in a homemade waffle cone. Obama said in his experience, scooping chocolate was more difficult than flavors like praline because it was harder.
Obama hit the ice cream parlor after a visit to the Golden Fig, a specialty food store whose owner wrote Obama a letter.

During the same visit, Obama railed against the very corporate media he was trying to bribe by accusing them of focusing on "frivolous issues" (such as polls that make him look bad)  instead of serious topics like ice cream flavors and the plight of the middle class.

It was on the eve of the last Great Depression that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens wrote what many consider to be his masterpiece. Called "The Emperor of Ice Cream," it describes the human revelry at a wake. While people carouse in the kitchen, smoking it up and gorging on sugary sweet confections, a woman's corpse moulders in an adjoining bedroom, her face carefully hidden from view, but her ugly bare feet protruding:

 Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

And thus is the president embarking on what his propagandists are dubbing "Day in the Life" tours, in which he is portrayed as a chained-bear monarch breaking out of his gilded cage to mingle with regular folks at the Great American Wake. And you, too, can be entered for a chance to win a life-affirming trip to the funereal ice cream parlor, as did the lucky Rebekah of Minnesota last week. (No cigars for the proles or the press, but Obama did just quietly axe proposed health warnings on boxes of high-end cigars for the high-rolling ruling class.)

 The alliterative presidential whipping of concupiscent curds will, the White House hopes, serve to drown out the terrorizing buzz of drones in the desert skies of Iraq and Texas, the growling of the empty stomachs of the one in five American children living in poverty, as well as such scandals as veterans dying while waiting for medical appointments.

The White House press release on the Summer of Ice Cream Love couches the propaganda in typical Father Knows Best boilerplate prose:
The President will keep fighting his economic priorities in the weeks and months ahead, because he knows the best way to expand opportunity for all hardworking Americans and continue to strengthen the economy is to grow it from the middle out.
Notice the Freudian slip, fighting his fictional priorities instead of fighting for them.  But you have to admit that the metaphor for growing from the middle out from all that frothy curd is pretty damned clever. Wallace Stevens, eat your heart out!

But anyway, let the lamp afix its beam on Obama, who in between junk food orgies, spoke to America in his Weekly Address:
Hi, everybody.  This week, I spent a couple days in Minneapolis, talking with people about their lives – their concerns, their successes, and their hopes for the future.I went because of a letter I received from a working mother named Rebekah, who shared with me the hardships her young family has faced since the financial crisis.  She and her husband Ben were just newlyweds expecting their first child, Jack, when the housing crash dried up his contracting business.  He took what jobs he could, and Rebekah took out student loans and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed – for their kids, and for each other.  And five years later, they’ve paid off debt, bought their first home, and had their second son, Henry.
So bootstraps, people.  Bootstraps! Despite crushing debt and job loss, Rebekah and Jack took on more crushing debt and worked crappy jobs in order to pay off their original crushing debt and somehow, magically, they got approved for a mortgage anyway. And they had a second kid. So what are the rest of you complaining about? Spread the embroidered sheet, cover her face!
In her letter to me, she wrote, “We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”  And in many ways, that’s America’s story these past five years.  We are a strong, tight-knit family that’s made it through some very tough times.
Yep, your president is hiding the corpse in the bedroom by dragging out the dead clunker called America is Just Like a Family again, spreading the discredited mantra that 'tis Austerity helps us grow. Even though we are still mired in a recession, the Wall Street head of our family has made it through its own extremely tough time of destroying the economy and on top of that, being forced to accept a taxpayer bailout. So rejoice, all ye who enter hell's Dairy Queen!
Today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  By measure after measure, our economy is doing better than it was five years ago.

But as Rebekah also wrote in her letter, there are still too many middle-class families like hers who do everything right – who work hard and who sacrifice – but can’t seem to get ahead.  It feels like the odds are stacked against them.  And with just a small change in our priorities, we could fix that.
 The problem is, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down almost every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.... 
Rebekah isn't lingering in the death room, and so can you. She is getting "ahead" with more crushing debt, but other families like hers are being rebuffed by creditors. Sob. And just think, Obama could dry your tears with just one tiny ripped-off corner of a one-ply Kleenex being hoarded by the Weeper of the House, who is dawdling like a wench in yesterday's dress! (Unlike an Emperor dawdling without any clothes at all.)
 This obstruction keeps the system rigged for those at the top, and rigged against the middle class.  And as long as they insist on doing it, I’ll keep taking actions on my own – like the actions I’ve taken already to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, and help students pay off their loans.  I’ll do my job.
He'll keep bringing you flowers wrapped in last month's newspapers and spooning verbal ice cream (instead of clamoring for government-created jobs or restoring food stamp cuts) down the parched throats of the starving.
Have a great Fourth of July, everybody – and good luck to Team USA down in Brazil.
The neoliberal remedy: Ice cream sandwiches and circuses on steroids, located, as ever, in a billion-dollar stadium smack in the middle of a teeming slum. We must turn our backs on the suffering in order to revel in the nationalistic glory of whipped up curds of muscular athleticism.

Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Suckers and Smoke

President Obama must be making e-cigarette users, cigar connoisseurs and their addiction-promoting suppliers choke up with joy. That's because his administration has either burnt restrictions on sales right down to the filter, or else drowned health warnings in the burbley grave of a hookah pipe. It seems that Big Tobacco lobbyists flacks converged on the White House and pitifully wheezed that regulations meant to protect the public health would hurt their bottom lines.

You know the drlll. We must not let the perfect pair of lungs be an enemy of the free market good.

Despite pleas from health organizations, the Obama administration has tossed FDA concerns about the dangers of electronic cigarettes with the usual cavalier promise to "revisit" the e-cigarette issue at such time that more scientific studies prove harm. And regarding cigars,  a cost-benefit analysis conducted by now-HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell concluded that that the human lives saved by issuing warnings are just not as important as corporate profits.

You read that right. The person who stomped all over public health to placate the lords of carcinogenic capitalism has just been confirmed to a major cabinet position designed to protect the public health.

Obama seems to have ignored a letter sent to him and signed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Legacy. Reports of poisonings from candy-flavored nicotine containing "e-liquids" have already tripled from 2012 to 2013, with sometimes deadly results.

But lest you think Obama is a complete wimp, you should also know that he did not give in to the poison-peddlers without the pretense of a fight! Even though kids will still be allowed to buy their electronic ciggies both online and over the counter, he and Burwell bravely drew a red line in the sand on those dangerous vending machine sales to minors. If young folks want their e-ciggies, they'll have to show their gumption by asking for them directly. Inserting some coin and pushing a button is taking the easy way out, and not showing enough grit and determination and personal responsibility.

And thus, for the profitable time being, the youth of America can suck away to their lungs' content. If they start succumbing in greater cost-benefit analytical numbers, then the government can always revisit a clampdown on the manufacturers. Or so soothed an FDA spokeswoman who did not dare criticize her boss because of that whole Insider Threat anti-whistleblowing program that Obama has got going. Meanwhile, the public can still feel free to comment... if they

To repeat, and to be fair, when Burwell decided to blow away the proposed regulations, she hadn't yet been confirmed as the new protector of the public's welfare.  She was merely acting as one of the main protectors of corporate welfare during her stint as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

It was Burwell's job then (and, let's face it, now) to crunch the numbers, weigh business profits against human costs, and then to decide whether proposed regulations in the public interest are really worth the plutocratic aggravation. As Reuters explains,
The FDA has authority under a 2009 law to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, but must issue new rules before regulating e-cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, water pipes and other tobacco products.
In April, the FDA issued a proposal which would subject the $2 billion e-cigarette industry to federal regulation for the first time. It would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 and vending machine sales.
The proposal disappointed public health advocates who criticized the agency's failure to restrict flavored products or television advertising, which they say attracts children, and criticized the agency for not moving to restrict online sales, where it can be harder to verify a person's age.
In its draft, the FDA had proposed "prohibition of non-face-to-face sales (e.g. vending machines)." That would have opened the door to a ban on online sales. But OMB edited the sentence so that the prohibition refers only to vending machines.
So, I guess the FDA rationale was that if they made their regulatory language fuzzy enough, that would eventually put the kibosh on the very lucrative internet e-cig marketplace. How very naive of them, thinking that they could sneak in an anti-capitalist gateway regulation drug of this sort! The FDA obviously didn't know their OMB from a hole in the wall. You do not pull a fast one on Sylvia Mathews Burwell or the ruling class racketeering world from whence she came.

Oh, and let's not forget about those designer cigars and the plutocrats who smoke them. Apparently, putting a health warning on filthy cigars would outrageously mar the pleasures of the filthy rich.... who like to indulge their expensive passion on their very special occasions. It just would not do to tamp down their enjoyment. It would totally waste the post prandial Downton Abbey smoking rooms to which the gents retire with their glasses of Port.

  It's not like the Rockefellers and the Trumps chain-smoke their stogies, for crying out loud! But anyway,(again via Reuters) let the Republican Cigar Caucus tell it in their own hack-neyed way:

In a December 2013 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was director of OMB at the time and is now Secretary of Health and Human Services, 24 Republican lawmakers asked that premium cigars be exempt.
"As you know," they wrote, "premium cigars are a niche product with an adult consumer base, much like fine wines. The majority of people who enjoy a cigar do so occasionally, often in social or celebratory settings."
When the proposed rule came out in April, some public health advocates expressed dismay.
"The part of the proposal we are deeply troubled by is the sweetheart deal for the cigar industry," Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association.
As the Lung Association and the American Cancer Society both point out, the Obama administration's exemption of cigars from FDA rules will also enable sellers of those candy-flavored cigar-like products popular with minors to also take advantage of the deregulation. Put something in a fancy box and put a label on it and a ring around it, and presto chango -- a cigar is a cigar is a cigar.
Meanwhile, the Tobacco lobby is bribing assuring Congress that their e-cigarette ads only target adult smokers. And if the kids happen to watch them, it must be the parents' fault for owning a TV.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Banality of Evil, American-Style

The long-suppressed memo giving pseudo-legal cover to President Obama's assassination of an American citizen has finally seen the cold light of day -- minus, of course, the damning parts which highlight the utter lack of any credible evidence against his victim. Details of how Anwar Al-Awlaki supposedly plotted to do imminent harm to the human race were deliberately redacted for the usual reasons of "national security".

The document is long, plodding, pedantic, and heavily footnoted. But to give you an idea of the Alice in Wonderland gobbledygook employed to justify murder-by-POTUS, this one sentence by DOJ lawyer James Barron pretty much sums it up:

"Instead, we emphasize the sufficiency of the facts that have been represented to us here, without determining whether such facts would be necessary to the conclusion we reach."

So... Off With Her Head, yo! The sputtering Red Queen has finagled her demented self from the pages of absurd fiction and into the annals of American shadow-justice. We are simply supposed to take an irritable monarch's word for it that the expatriate imam was a bad guy who did more than disseminate anti-American rhetoric on the Internet and inspire a lot of anti-American feeling among the ingrates on the receiving end of American imperialism, occupation, and worse. The fact is that the Fort Hood shooter was apparently inspired by Awlaki and took matters into his own weaponized-by-American Government hands. 

The Awlaki drone hit was a revenge killing, pure and simple. But admitting this would make Obama and Company look like bloodthirsty barbarians instead of bureaucratic barbarians. Therefore, even if the alleged "facts" that the White House saw fit to censor did not exist, evidence is not necessary anyway. The president does not let pesky facts get in the way of either his Zen-like  thought processes or of his baser brutal impulses.

The ass-covering, four-year-old memo was ultimately released, not to honor the demands of media and civil liberties groups, but for the usual reason: sleazy politics.  Its author (Barron) had been nominated by a grateful Obama to a coveted federal judgeship. But the Senate -- especially the Democrats who have long railed against government secrecy -- made a big show of refusing to confirm him until Obama promised  they'd get a peek at the secret document. Quick as a wink and a nod, they confirmed Barron without even seeing the need to read his drivel. He will now spend the rest of his compromised life deciding the fates of countless citizens appearing before him as he purports to uphold the same Constitution he just shat upon in his cut-and-paste legal opinion.

The New York Times ran a rather tepid editorial which, rather than condemning outright the state-sponsored killing of Awlaki, his teenage son, two other Americans, and countless thousands of Obama's foreign victims, suggested that in the future, an outside monitor might be needed to keep an eye on Presidents Who Kill. An independent legal panel (comprised, no doubt, of the usual revolving door suspects) might be in order to proof-read future "law-fare" documents for their accuracy and logic.

My published response:
 I got a sick feeling reading the memo, a banal excuse for a cold-blooded deed, and not worth the paper it was redacted on. Under the flimsy rationale put forth by the newly-anointed Judge Barron, the president would even be justified in pre-emptively assassinating the right-wing killers now terrorizing the Homeland. Don't they, too, constitute an "imminent threat" to innocent Americans? After all, the whole world has been declared a battlefield.
This is all about a declining empire's grasp on power as the self-proclaimed "one indispensable nation."
The pathetic and Orwellian grasping at straw men in the memo is likely why the Obama administration officials fought so long and so hard to prevent their memo from ever seeing the light of day. Its vapid legalese and normalization of atrocity is exactly what Hannah Arendt was talking about when she coined the phrase "the banality of evil."
Barron was only following orders, you see. The Senate willingly confirmed him based on the promise of a document that they hadn't even read. Being kept in the insider loop is apparently their prime concern.
And if recent polls are any indication, the majority of Americans don't even give a damn about drones killing people who aren't one of us, or who do not represent "our values." Most people are also just fine with Obama droning more Iraqis as long as the hackneyed "boots on the ground" don't come into play and we don't sacrifice any more of our own precious blood and treasure.
The majority of other reader comments, thankfully, do not at all adhere to the polled reactions of a nation full of quiet Americans. Here's a highly recommended one written by Counterpunch columnist Norman Pollack of Lansing, Michigan, that pulls no punches:
A halting step toward affirming the rule of law. No condemnation of drone assassination per se, only when involving a US citizen; no criticism of the FISA Court which itself denies the adversarial process and renders secret decisions; no criticism of Obama, who uses a hit list and personally authorizes assassination--and here, is the one who put forth David Barron's candidacy for federal judgeship; and no criticism of Holder and DOJ for for the abomination thereby produced.
Poor NYT, chained to the Obama administration, even when, as in Cairo, journalists are railroaded while Kerry lavishes praise on the US-Egyptian mutual partnership. Keep this up, with soporific editorials, and soon there will no longer be freedom of the press.
The memo rationalizing the murder of Awlaki should go down in judicial infamy and result in the moral condemnation of all responsible, beginning with POTUS and DOJ, but extending to a National Security State in toto, which condemns civil liberties to the ash heap. In the words of the folk song, Which side are you on? Time is running short; a fascistic mindset is in the ascendance. Awlaki's death should have been a wake-up call. Instead we sleep the sleep of complicity in the deeds of a murderous government.
And as contributor "annenigma" points out,
 The Obama administration did not 'finally' release this memo. The 2nd US Circuit court of appeals in NY got sick of the foot-dragging by the regime and released it themselves, so let's not pretend the administration showed ANY good faith effort to comply with the court's order. Let's also not pretend this regime has ANY respect for the Constitution.
If we do not stand up as one America to defend our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the very glue that binds us together as American citizens, we will no longer be bound by anything but the chains of the national security police state that are being clamped and tightened on us.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry.
And for the usual expert (and patient) parsing of all things obfuscatory emanating from the Security State, see Marcy Wheeler's  analysis here. She provides the historical background lacking in other reports on the latest redacted document dump. Among other observations, she points out that Barron's memo was actually a follow-up to the original DOJ paper justifying Awlaki's assassination and in response to a blog post by a legal scholar claiming that it would be murder to kill him. That is why Barron's memo immediately starts out by defining criminal homicide in all its degrees, and why Obama is allegedly above such niceties.

Also well worth a read is Barry Grey's analysis over at the World Socialist Website. 

Life under a personable homicidal de facto dictator with a million-
dollar smile truly is one scary spectacle, a pastiche of horrors worthy of Orwell... with an absurd dash of Lewis Carroll thrown in for good measure. Civil Liberties have indeed made a one-way trip down to the rabbit memory hole. And until we stop being scared, outrage-fatigued little bunnies in thrall to the corporate two-party scam, it's only going to get worse.

When even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders can vote to confirm and elevate an apparatchik of the Imperial Presidency to a permanent judgeship, without even bothering to read his nonsense, we must accept the fact that fascism is not only just around the corner --  it's already here.

"If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of ‘the lesser evil’… is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to acceptance of evil as such…. Politically,the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.” – Hannah Arendt, 1964.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Brave Neoliberal World

Former Bush Treasury Secretary/Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson is getting lots of plaudits today for his brave New York Times Sunday op-ed, in which he bravely broke ranks with the climate change denialists of his own Grand Guignol Party and proposed a brave new carbon tax to combat pollution. 

It's the fierce urgency of now, as told by a plutocratic con$ervation afficionado:
For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.
We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.
This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.
Sounds great, right? He was very careful not to mention "Cap and Trade" in his editorial, despite the fact that Goldman Sachs literally wrote the book on how to profit from excess carbon emissions back when he was in charge of the banking behemoth.. And so, Paul Krugman has very thoughtfully taken up the slack and actually gone to the right of Paulson's piece. While Paulson only obliquely and euphemistically refers to "innovation," Krugman pragmatically cuts to the chase and cheer-leads President Obama's beloved profiteering Cap and Trade agenda:
In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.
(Krugman can't even let a column on climate change go to print without mentioning the non sequitur of Obamacare. Talk about awkward! Then again, the Conscience of a Neoliberal was probably gnawing at him.)

My response to Krugman:
 Goldman Sachs, which Paulson used to run and which he helped bail out at our expense, stands to profit big-time from carbon credit trading.
Whenever a free market guru mentions "innovation" and concern for the planet in the same breath, the bait and switch alarm bells should be ringing in your head.
Instead, Paulson is lauded for courageously breaking away from right-wing nuttery, simply by deigning to believe in man-made global warming.
As Matt Taibbi wrote some years ago in his now-famous "Vampire Squid" magazine piece, Goldman Sachs has long been anxious to blow up the carbon tax bubble:
"The new carbon credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance."
If polluters go over emission limits, they'll be able to buy credits from the more compliant companies. Then the financial predators will corner the market on the ever-scarcer credits, and stand to make as much as a trillion dollars... a year!
 So, if you believe that Paulson wrote his op-ed purely out of altruistic concern for your lungs, I'd say I have a bridge to sell you, except that it's probably already been privatized and plundered by the financial mafia. Call it GoldmanCare.
Paulson's fondness for Cap and Trade (as opposed to the straight tax he is now touting on paper in order to get the money-making debate restarted) goes way back. He co-founded, with Al Gore, a private equity greenwashing firm called Generation Investment Management (GIM) and a now-defunct Goldman-funded offshoot called the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) to pre-position the big players for the rigged game... now in limbo, thanks to the "wing-nuts" in Congress who hate it just because Obama likes it.

And since the phrase Cap and Trade is itself a now-tarnished euphemism for "pay to pollute," the neolibs are scrambling to come up with new ways of championing it. EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, for example, euphemizes it as "multi-state market-based programs." 

Obama is simply trying to re-animate it by handing it over to the states and away from a recalcitrant Congress. Oh, and he gets brownie points from Krugman and other denizens of "the left" for once again being seen as trying to do the right thing. It's the audacity of aspiration. Gaius Publius has a good synopsis of how the game is being played.

The predators of the financial class are tired of waiting to cash in on another catastrophe. They are tired, as GIM warns on its web-page, of being able to offer only an "aspirational" investment opportunity to its deep-pocketed clients. Now that climate change, along with income inequality, is all the rage, what better time to foment the fear, clean the air a tiny bit, co-opt environmental groups, feel better about their crazy-rich selves, and make gazillions more dollars at the expense of the precariat? Do it while Hurricane Sandy is still on our minds. Do it while the predators are still profiting off Hurricane Sandy victims.

It's Disaster Capitalism, ad infinitum.

Cui bono.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Ukraine Genocide and Its Cheerleaders

 (Ed. note: Be sure to follow the link to State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki's press conference earlier this week, in which she seemed O.K. with the Ukrainian ambassador's characterization of ethnic Russians as "subhuman.")

 By Vera Graziadei

crossposted from Global Research


As the world’s media circus moves on to Iraq and the international community’s already-waning attention switches from Ukraine to a new series of the ‘US foreign policy disaster’ horror show, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Yatsenyuk publicly announces Kiev government’s genocidal plans in relation to anti-governmental militants and largely ethnically-Russian East Ukrainians who support them. Following the Third Reich’s textbook and without any attempt to conceal it, he refers to the group they are trying to exterminate as ‘subhuman’. This fascist manifesto is then proudly displayed on the Ukrainian Embassy in the USA’s website

Around the same time Ukraine’s Minister of Defence announces plans for ‘filtration camps’, where survivors linked to separatism will be detained, and Ukraine’s Land Agency reveals the Ukrainian LEBENSRAUM plan, which promises free land to Ukrainian soldiers willing to carry out the genocide of the Untermensch. Hitler would be proud and so was the US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, who ignored AP’s Matt Lee’s concern raised at the State Department’s meeting about the choice of the word ‘subhuman’, instead praising Ukrainian Prime Minister and his leadership as been “consistently in support of a peaceful resolution.”  (later the website changed it to inhuman, but the first screenshot was already out there)

The most effective steps amongst many taken by the Ukrainian government ‘in support of a peaceful resolution’ in East Ukraine were:

1) MARIUPOL KILLINGS - intentional killing of unarmed persons by government agents;

2) ODESSA MASSACRE - carried out “unofficially” or by private groups with the government promoting and turning a blind eye to deaths;

3) LUGANSK BOMBINGS - indiscriminate civilian bombing (unlawful under Article 48, Geneva Convention);

4) SLAVYANSK SHELLINGSindiscriminate civilian killings by shelling (as above);

5) KRAMATORSK SHELLINGSindiscriminate civilian killings by shelling (as above).

These are but a few amongst many successful ‘peaceful’ measures taken by the Ukrainian government, that have officially claimed lives of 270 civilians (11.06.14), amongst them a 12 year old boy and 6 year old girl. The death toll is quickly rising.

Irrespective of whether you see what’s going on in Ukraine as a civil war, war against a foreign aggressor or anti-terrorist operation, the war crimes of the Ukrainian government (highlighted above in bold) towards East Ukrainian civilians amount to a textbook definition of DEMOCIDE or intentional GENOCIDE, carried out by a government during war times.  It hasn’t claimed a large proportion of population yet, as it’s only the beginning, but there’s enough evidence that if it’s not stopped it will lead to a large scale disaster.

If you are still in doubt that what is happening is indeed genocide, then please continue reading, as I take you through the eight stages of genocide with concrete evidence for each stage coming from Ukraine and available online. Aside from the criminals, who have ordered and carried out the crimes, there are also individuals and media outlets that have either ignored, facilitated, encouraged, promoted or applauded one or all of the stages of this genocide.  I believe that these Cheerleaders are also to blame, though not as much as the perpetrators.

The eight stages of genocide:

Stage 1. CLASSIFICATION - people are divided into ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
a) Ukrainians vs Russians: Extreme Ukrainian Nationalism celebrated on Maidan is the root from which hate and genocidal intentions towards Russians and Ukrainian Russians grew. Obscuring the darker undertones of what is going on, Ukrainians would play a game where everyone would be encouraged to jump to show that they are not Russians: “Hto ne skache, tot moskal” (Who is not jumping is Moskal- a derogatory term for ‘Russian’), later re-enacted in subways and school gatherings. Genocidal intentions were revealed from early on, especially by more extreme groups like Praviy Sector: “Moskali na nozhi!” (Knife the Russians!), but also by nationalist youth: “Hang Russians!” .


ANNE APPLEBAUM (ex-editor of the Economist and member of the editorial board of The Washington Post) with her article Nationalism is exactly what Ukraine needs in which she denigrates industrial East and praises ‘nationalistic patriots’, who are waging war against it,  as the only hope for Ukraine’s future.
Less successful, but still widespread attempts at dividing people of Ukraine were:
b) civilised West vs ‘mob’ of the East (‘bidlo‘)

REUTERS: In Eastern Ukraine, Mob Rules

EUROMAIDAN PR: Refugees from Donetsk are rude, machinators and lovers of free passes.
c) Liberal West vs Soviet East

FORBES: Russian Separatists in Ukraine are nostalgic for the Soviet Union
At a later stage, many people will be justifying genocide as either fight against evil Russians or extermination of ‘bidlo’ or struggle against Soviet mentality. All these are mechanisms of denial of the crime.

Stage 2. SYMBOLIZATION - when combined with hatred, symbols are forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups:
East Ukrainians, who rose up against Russophobe post-coup government, were termed ‘separatists’ and once they started taking over governmental buildings (just like Maidaners did), they were re-termed ‘terrorists‘. Most common symbol used is an orange-and-black striped Colorado beetle (left), because it resembles the colors of the St. George ribbon (right) worn by Pro-Russians.


Stage 3. DEHUMANIZATION -  one group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases, which should be ‘cleansed’ or ‘exterminated.’
a) Colorado bugs to be exterminated as ‘pests/parasites’ of Ukraine



CHANNEL 5 (owned by Poroshenko): ran insecticide ad (covert call for genocide/subliminal message that killing ‘Colorados’ would lead to prosperity of the country) which encourages to kill Colorado Beetles by fumigating them from a canister bearing black and red colours of Praviy Sector’s flag.

Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) flag. Euromaidan, Kyiv, Ukraine.

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY: What’s orange and black and bugging Ukraine?

Stage 4. ORGANIZATION - special army units or militias are trained and armed:
Ukrainian National Guard.

Praviy Sector creates “Donbass” Battalion to fight ‘separatists’ in East Ukraine
Neo-fascists train to fight ‘Ukrainian rebels’ in Azov Battalion

Stage 5. POLARIZATION - hate groups broadcast polarising propaganda:

HROMADSKE TV: US-sponsored genocide propaganda Warriors of Light

Stage 6. PREPARATION - victims are identified and separated out.

Leaders of DNR and LNR and all the people, who didn’t escape the towns that the government is shelling (humanitarian corridors have not been established!)

Slavyansk, Lugansk, Semenovka, Kramatorsk…

YAROSH: calls for fight against East Ukraine

Tyahnibok: calls for ‘neutralising terrorists’

YULIA TIMOSHENKO: leaked call, where she says “Screw it, we should take up arms and kill the goddamned katsaps” — derogatory Ukrainian slang for Russians — “along with their leader.” In response to a question, as to what is one to do with 8 million Russians, living in Ukraine, she answered: “Exterminate them all with atomic weapons.”

EUROMAIDAN PR and THOMAS THEINER: Call for genocide and nuclear destruction: “Provide guerrillas with Anti-tank Guided Missiles, Man Portable Air-defense Missiles, mines, explosives…Remove uranium from Ukraine’s nuclear reactors and prepare to disperse it in Russia”

Stage 7. EXTERMINATION - it’s extermination to the killers, because they do not believe their victims to be fully human: Odessa Massacre, Luganks bombing, Mariupol killings, Slavyansk shelling.


Odessa massacre: 
Mayor of Odessa VOLODIMYR NEMIROVSKY: “The Odessa anti-terrorist operation is legal”

OLESYA OROBETS, Deputy of SVOBODA party: “It’s a historic day for Ukraine, I’m so happy that these pesky separatists in Odessa are finally liquidated.”
Deputy of Svoboda Party IRYNA FARION with her Facebook post after Odessa Massacre: “Bravo, Odessa. Pearl of the Ukrainian spirit. Let the Devils burn in hell. Bravo.”

Stage 8. DENIAL - the perpetrators deny they committed any crimes: Calling it anti-terrorist operation or fight against Russian invasion is a way of denying that Ukrainian Army is carrying out genocidal orders. More specific denials are Odessa victims burnt themselves or Lugansk victims bombed themselves.


Ex-mayor of Odessa Edward Gurvits: Odessa massacre was an act of self-defence

Lugansk bombings

KYIV POST: Ukrainian air force didn’t bomb Luhansk

History was written by the winners before the invention of the internet. Now, despite the Ukrainian army trying to prevent media from working, many journalists are revealing the blatant lies of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian/Western media with regards to the ‘Russian invasion’, such as Mark Franchetti’s observation that most people fighting against Kiev government in the East are civilians of Donbas, and not mercenaries from Russia, bandits, alcoholics or drug addicts. This is the impression I got from watching numerous Youtube videos from the battlefields. The truth will eventually emerge and Ukrainians and anyone, who supports them, will not be able to write their history without contradictory comments on the margins. There are enough people out there, who aware of what’s going on, and someone will write the Perpetrators and Cheerleaders into History as the Criminals that they are.

Just as Byron went to fight against Turks in the Greek War of Independence, there are Russian citizens, who have decided to come to East Ukraine and fight against Ukrainian Army. There is a high chance that some money is coming from Russia to support them. There is also a high chance that the whole ‘Ukrainian civil war’ is just a fight between Ukrainian aristocracies or global elites, or it’s a war for shale gas ( or war organised by global financial elites. However, and most importantly,  there is a large percentage of people in East Ukraine, who have chosen to come and vote in a referendum, if not for separation from Ukraine, then at least for federalisation. These largely working-class people (richer people do not want to risk their wealth by standing up against Kiev’s government) could not accept the historical narrative offered by Euromaidan, including Bandera, anti-Russian sentiments, heavenly hundreds, denial of second world war victories, etc. These anti-government people should have been listened to, talked to and negotiated with, not totally ignored and eventually bombed and shelled.

Genocide is a total abomination of our species that should be condemned by anyone with any conscience, as soon as one becomes aware of it. I consider Cheerleaders, who have supported, encouraged or applauded any or all of the stages of the Genocide that is now going on in Ukraine, as much an abomination as the crime they cheer for. With the help from its powerful war-mongering allies, Ukraine might build a powerful and rich nation (unlikely), cleansed out from ‘evil’ Russians, but they will never regain what they have irreversibly lost – their HUMANITY. As a half-Ukrainian half-Russian, who grew up in Donbas, the centre of ‘Colorados’ and ‘subhumans’, I’m deeply hurt by those other Ukrainians, who harboured so much hate towards Donbas in their hearts, saddened to see my country take a genocidal path and extremely worried about the fate of all my fellow Donbas citizens, who are or soon will be under a significant threat of being killed. I urge all Ukrainians, who are reading this and have not lost all their humanity yet, to put pressure on their local and Kiev government to stop ‘anti-terrorist operation’ before East Ukraine is drowned in blood.

P.S. If you are aware of any Cheerleaders that I haven’t included, please include them in the comments or send me an email. Thank you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How To Continue a War

The propaganda plan is falling into place very nicely.

Obama has easily scored the congressional public relations fig leaf and blank check necessary to use military force in Iraq, simply by herding a few leaders into the coveted pen and informing them he doesn't need their damn approval for anything. That is because the congressional approval granted to his predecessor is still in effect. And that means, for all intents and purposes, that the Iraq War has never really ended. From "the most trusted name in news":
While the White House statement emphasized Obama would continue to consult with Congress, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the President "basically just briefed us on the situation in Iraq and indicated he didn't feel he had any need for authority from us for the steps that he might take."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California agreed with McConnell's assessment, adding she believed congressional authorization for military force in Iraq back in 2001 and 2003 still applied.
 Obama "did not give us an array of actions he was planning to take," Pelosi said. "He just talked about his perspective on what was happening there."
Tell me again about the mean old Republicans not letting Obama get anything done. It's the Imperial Presidency, people, and it's got the full bipartisan and plutocratic approval of our rulers. But they still have to pretend to be at odds, in order to maintain the grand illusion that we still have a functioning democracy instead of governance under a corporate-military coup.

So, to deflect attention from this grim reality, and to whip up a whole new froth of pseudo-liberal outrage, enter Dick Cheney and his lovely daughter Liz. They penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed obnoxious enough to guarantee that anything Obama does in the way of violent imperialism will have him coming out smelling like a peace-loving Nobel Peace Prize. A sample of the latest Bad Cop, incestuous neo-con style:
Despite clear evidence of the dire need for American leadership around the world, the desperation of our allies and the glee of our enemies, President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch. Indeed, the speed of the terrorists' takeover of territory in Iraq has been matched only by the speed of American decline on his watch.
The president explained his view in his Sept. 23, 2009, speech before the United Nations General Assembly. "Any world order," he said, "that elevates one nation above others cannot long survive." Tragically, he is quickly proving the opposite—through one dangerous policy after another—that without American pre-eminence, there can be no world order.
It is time the president and his allies faced some hard truths: America remains at war, and withdrawing troops from the field of battle while our enemies stay in the fight does not "end" wars. Weakness and retreat are provocative. U.S. withdrawal from the world is disastrous and puts our own security at risk.
Cheney is such a repellant character that, despite the obvious manipulation of the public psyche at work here, I couldn't resist joining the chorus of outrage complementing Charles Blow's own duly manipulated outrage at Cheney's blindness to the irony of it all. My own red meat comment adding to the frenzy:
Cheney is not only blind to irony. He's blind to all that is good, true and humane. Just because he has a new heart doesn't mean he has any heart. Were he to be given one of those psychopath tests, he'd likely score off the charts and end up in his own category, somewhere in the darkest spot of the last circle of hell.
Neocon extremists are being given free rein by the same bloodthirsty media hacks who gave them free rein more than a dozen years ago. The talking heads are even waxing nostalgic for the good old days of embeds. The retired generals fomenting fear are obviously hungry for more war profits and plunder.
They make Obama's possible "targeted" drone strikes look therapeutic in comparison. So far, the debate is do we bomb a little, or should we bomb a lot. Doing nothing is simply not part of the acceptable discourse on TV shows sponsored by the military industrial complex.
 You'd think that with a million barrels of fracked oil being produced every single day in North Dakota alone, Cheney and his crude cabal would finally be sated enough to shut up.
And what about the Iraqis still paying the price of American aggression? Iraq Body Count estimates that between 100,000 and 200,000 beneficiaries of our Freedoms have died as the direct result of Cheney & Co. being so wrong at the expense of so many.
Cheney's tacit definition of winning hearts and minds is crushing them into bloody pulps.
 He should have been a dud by now. But he keeps right on ticking.
As other commenters noted, Obama has given a free pass to Cheney by not prosecuting him for his war crimes. Additionally, as Martha Shelley of Portland, OR aptly pointed out in her response to me, the Clinton administration also has dirty hands: the economic embargo during his tenure caused the deaths of an estimated half a million Iraqi children by withholding food and medicines.

So Cheney is the useful Machiavellian idiot in the latest surge of American sabre-rattling. He serves the purpose of making complicit Democrats sound absolutely Christ-like in comparison. He serves to enable the continuing marginalization by her own party of Barbara Lee, stalwart Congressional opponent of unfettered presidential power. From The Hill:
We must recognize that there is no military solution in Iraq,” Lee wrote Wednesday in a “Dear Colleague” letter to her fellow Democrats. 
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday said the authority that Lee wants to repeal empowers Obama to launch attacks against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has taken over a broad swath of territory in both countries, without going to Congress first. 
“I do not believe the President needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I am pleased by the president’s efforts to secure strong Congressional support, and I look forward to additional consultation.”
Pelosi and two other Democratic leaders -- Steny Hoyer of Maryland and James Clyburn of South Carolina -- are fully in favor of any military action that does not include the meaningless hackneyed phrase "boots on the ground."(human bodies not members of Obama's private horde of secret elite forces and corporate-financed mercenaries.)

It's the Cheneys and their odious ilk who give Clyburn (who voted against the first Iraq War)  permission to mouth off and pretend that this sounds sane:
“I’m a great believer in drones, and I think that this situation cries out for it,” said Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and a respected voice within the CBC.
It's the continuing normalization and respectability of the Lesser Evil, which is every bit as vicious and effective as the Greater Evil.