Thursday, July 31, 2014

Makeout Sessions at the Highest Levels

Two weeks after the Obama Justice Department announced that it wouldn't bother investigating the CIA for allegedly hacking into the computers of Senate staffers investigating CIA torture, the CIA has come clean about hacking into the computers of Senate staffers. 

In case that verbiage is too obfuscatory for you, let the CIA, via McClatchy Newspapers, come clean in its own cogent way:
Findings of the investigation by the CIA Inspector General’s Office “include a judgment that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) and the CIA in 2009,” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement.
In case that verbiage is still too murky for the comprehension of the average intelligent person, let us be super-duper crystal clear:

The spooks broke the law and domestically spied on Congress. They got caught in the act. They denied it at first. And like any abusive spook worth his salt, CIA Chief John Brennan proceeded to publicly impugn the mental health ("beyond the scope of sanity") of his chief accuser, pictured below

Senate Moll Dianne Feinstein

Star-crossed bureaucrats that they are, they soon kissed and made up behind closed doors. Therefore, hapless Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to be a third wheel. He didn't want to spoil the rapprochement by airing the squabbling pair's dirty laundry. But since other dirty laundry (the Senate's CIA torture report)  is going to get aired anyway after a thorough whitewashing by the Obama White House, Brennan decided to manfully admit to just a teensy little bit of jealous cheating (hacking his moll) to deflect attention from the felony physical assault already perpetrated upon hundreds of CIA torture victims -- not to mention the criminal propaganda assault soon to be perpetrated on the report-reading public.

Just to make sure that he is completely forgiven, Brennan this week held yet another makeout session with Feinstein, which was really a three-way involving  Republican heartthrob Saxby Chambliss. (Is there a more seductively evocative name than Saxby Chambliss?) This guarantees that the ultimate whitewashing of torture will be completely and unimpeachably bipartisan. And to further prove what a peachy abuser he is, Brennan will also submit his apology for the high level review of Fox News contributor and former senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. Thrilling disciplinary measures have not been ruled out! So stay tuned for evocative yardsticks upon brass knuckles.... and plenty of lash-ready wet noodles.

If there is one thing that the CIA (Criminal Idiots of America) know how to do, it's covering all their bases as well as covering their own asses.

Read more here:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Everywhere Is War: Gaza Edition

Let's just say that both George Orwell and Hannah Arendt would be having a field day with the way the Western media are covering both the Forever Wars and the Forever Propaganda Wars. Luckily for us, the major actors are dumb enough and clumsy enough to be caught in the act of gross dishonesty on a regular basis. Every day comes news of some major new atrocity and every day come revelations of the atrocious ways the media are trying to hide the truth and twist the facts.

If there's  one thing we've learned since the latest assault on Gaza began, it's that the American government, the Israeli Government, and the corporate mainstream media are, for all practical purposes, one and the same entity.  And that the narrative which they sell on a daily basis -- that Republicans and Democrats are sworn enemies -- is a complete fabrication.

As Counterpunch and other outlets have revealed, there's even a secret instruction manual floating around which lays out myriad clever ways to "blame your victim/sympathize with your victim." It was written by GOP propagandist Frank Luntz, specifically for pro-Israel apologists who were desperate for bromides to justify the last mass slaughter five years ago. These identical talking points are still being used with mindless abandon across the political spectrum... which in America the Righty and Mighty, runs the gamut from A to B. (H/T Mary McCarthy.)

Republican and Democratic politicians and government bureaucrats and ruling class personalities all joined hands at a Support Israel Rally Monday in Washington, D.C.  It might have been titled "We're Saying It Loud and We're Saying It Proud: We're All Neocons Now!" We haven't seen anything like it since these phony merchants of death all joined hands and sang America the  Beautiful and replaced the Bill of Rights with the Patriot Act after the CIA blowback attack known as 9/11.

The Wall Street Journal was on it, with all the vapidity it could muster:
Speaking at an impromptu gathering of Jewish leaders here, congressional leaders denounced Hamas as a terror organization.“We will not equate professional militaries with terrorist organizations that use human shields as they seek maximum civilian casualties,” House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said, pledging Congress’ support for Israel. “America must send this clear, public and united message: Israel is our friend, and Israel’s enemies are our enemies. And as long as I am speaker of the House, I give you my word this will be our cause.”
Multiple lawmakers, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), called for a demilitarization of Gaza to end violence in the region. “If there is to be a political solution, it is imperative that Hamas is disarmed,” Mr. Hoyer said, adding that Palestinians must have confidence that their government is using its resources to support them, rather than invest in weapons.....
Susan Rice, the White House national security adviser, told several hundred people at the conference that Israel has “the same unequivocal right to self-defense as every other nation,” and that Hamas is to blame for the violence. “Hamas fired the rockets. Hamas deliberately targeted Israeli citizens, particularly civilians,” she said. “Hamas refused an early plan for a cease-fire. Hamas, in a time of glaring human need, instead of investing in the future of Gaza’s children, built tunnels to kidnap and kill Israelis. So Hamas initiated this conflict. And, Hamas has dragged it on.”
Meanwhile, lest too much of the light of truth escape from Gaza, its one electrical power plant blew up in one of those same spontaneous combustions that have been mysteriously afflicting Palestinian schools, hospitals, United Nations shelters and places of worship. More than a thousand civilians, at least a third of them children, have been killed. The official media narrative would have us believe that this "collateral damage" was deliberately conceived and birthed by Palestinian parents to serve as human shield photo-ops.

The establishment of a Heart of Darkness in what's been described as the world's largest outdoor prison should save NBC the trouble of having to scrub out the actual cause of the combustions from its website. What journalists can no longer actually see will not hurt the Israeli government's explosion of propaganda. Moon of Alabama has the details of what is only the latest and more blatant example of self-censorship of the "free" press.

And then there's David Gregory of Press the Meat. He is the poster child for the way not to do slick propaganda. Rumor has it that he's on his way out, but for now, he is a very non-useful idiot indeed. David Gregory didn't even try to hide the fact that he was blind-siding a U.N. official with some phony film footage purporting to show a Hamas rocket launch from a U.N. school. To the official's credit, his reaction to Gregory's ham-handed antics was barely contained laughter.

And as for Barack Obama: the official narrative is the same old, same old schizophrenia. He hates it when children die, but supports Israel's right to slaughter them. He loves peace even though he himself wages war.  Common corporate media verbiage has him alternately "grappling" and "wrestling" with the tragedy, the weight of the entire world upon his inner Buddha. He has a "frosty" relationship with Netanyahu. He occasionally picks up the phone to impart some tepid wrath.

Philip Weiss, though, has a reality check, pointing out that it was Obama who quashed the global condemnation (the Goldstone Report) of Israel's previous  onslaught on Gaza, and effectively granted Bibi perpetual immunity from war crimes prosecution. Therefore, the current fatalities should indeed weigh heavily upon whatever passes for the president's conscience.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Paul Ryan Does Christmas in July

It's as regular as melting Salvador Dali clockwork: Paul Ryan speaks, and the media-political complex (aka the Permanent American Ruling Class) melts. It's the persistence of false memory and denial of reality.

The important people listen, and they are filled with gratitude and awe. Paul Ryan has taken a bold new leap, going where no Republican has gone before! He has devised a brand new Poverty Plan, a starting point from which both political parties can slice and dice the safety net, and then have the nerve to call it a darned good plan for the indigent.

"Democrats should welcome Paul Ryan's poverty plan!" gushes centrist wonk Ezra Klein

The Obama-affiliated Center for American Progress calls Ryan's nouveau-humane approach to sentencing reform "progressive" because he wants to help low-level criminals get back on their feet. Oh the humanity.

"Three Ideas from Ryan's Poverty Plan That Even Liberals Can Love," blares a headline in the Washington Post. (Here's a teaser: Ryan's earned income tax credit for childless workers is nearly identical to Obama's. Then again, so is that banal "opportunity ladders" rhetoric.)

Getting the drift? This is how the brutality agenda gets set in an election year, and how newly-returned Dems and Republicans can get together this fall with their pruning shears for a backroom rip-fest and call it a sewing bee.

Once you get past the feel-good bipartisan hype, the truth is that this year's Ryan excrescence is only a slight variation on his usual Social Darwinist theme. Since wealth inequality is In, and deficit hawkery is Out as a subject of polite conversation, the GOP has to be especially careful in this year's framing of its inbred sadism. So, taking a cue from Obama's own Newspeak, "cuts" have been euphemistically replaced by "reform."

Rather than peddle his standard starve the beast slash-o-rama, the GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee has pivoted to the concern-trolling of the down and out. He's dispensed with actual budgets and numbers this time, simply because his past mathematical gyrations were so easily debunkable.

What economist, after all, can presume to read the inner workings of Paul Ryan's emotional mind?

So, like his literary heroine, the cult priestess of selfishness Ayn Rand, Ryan is playing it safe and sticking to pure pulp fiction.

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

 Romantic that he is, he's even invented a hero and a heroine of his very own to illustrate how his bait and switch "Opportunity Grants" (OGs) would work. Ryan's plot has poor people embarking on a one-stop shopping spree which ends at the exclusive Personal Responsibility Boutique.  A "counselor" (who sounds suspiciously like a used car salesman) will shove a contract in front of you. Failure to sign on the dotted line and then to strictly abide by its onerous terms and conditions will result in a midnight visit from the repo man.

 You will be given X amount of time to get your ass in gear and have your dreams come true, or you'll be dead meat. Failure to use your bootstraps to get a job by an artificial deadline will result in a boot getting locked onto your benefits.

 But! If you get off your butt quicker than expected, if you spring from your hammock of dependency like a Pavlovian dog on a trampoline, Ryan promises you a reward.... a savings bond! (or more likely, a Walmart gift card. Because Walmart must always continue to get government welfare. Always. )

Also, the more clients that communities can kick off welfare, the more federal money they'd receive as their own reward. Just like car salespeople, the "counselors" will be compensated on the basis of how thoroughly they can screw the customers.

The fictional poor people that Ryan invents (see pages 20-23 of the report) are a deserving single mother named Andrea, and an undeserving male slacker he calls Steve.

Andrea, through no fault of her own, has been abandoned by her louse of a husband. Since she bore him two kids within the sanctified bonds of matrimony, she is not a slut. She is, therefore, a "deserving" poor person.  Her only fault is the mythical "skills gap" that centrist pundits have dreamed up to absolve greedy plutocrats and pandering politicians of their own responsibility for record income disparity and the unemployment crisis. So Ryan's solution is for Andrea to use her parents as free babysitters while she goes after hubby for back child support, works part-time, gets her teaching degree, and climbs up the magical opportunity ladder.

How similar Ryan's OG proposals are to to the Mitt Romney's Guide to Paying for College. To wit: hit up Mom and Dad!

 Ryan conveniently ignores the fact that fewer and fewer working mothers have access to free child care courtesy of their stay-at-home unemployed relatives. Grandma and Grandpa are putting off their own retirements in record numbers, working longer hours for less money. Increasingly, working mothers are sandwiched between taking care of children and taking care of ailing impoverished parents. And historically, ex-husbands do not pay regular or adequate child support.

 Paul Ryan seems to be living in 1960s sitcom land. Here are some facts:

The percentage of child care provided by day care centers had increased from 6 percent in 1965 to 28 percent in 1990, partly because the influx of women into the workforce had narrowed the pool of female relatives and friends available to take care of other people's children. Between 1985 and 2005, employment by day care centers increased over 250 percent, representing a gain of almost 400,000 new jobs. Workplace child care facilities did not grow at the same rate: a 1995 survey found that only 10 percent of the nation's 681 major employers offered on-site care programs to their employees.
So much for Ryan's Cinderella fantasy world, in which on-site day care doesn't exist, even for Andrea's born-in-wedlock children. 

Now for the "undeserving poor" section in his poverty manifesto. He and his cohort have gotten into hot water recently for racial dog-whistling, so he avoids such words as "urban" and "culture" when talking about Slacker Steve. Needless to say, he still manages to dog-whistle, if not to bull-horn. This make-believe guy comes from a "generational poverty" family of single, unwed (read: Black) welfare queens. Steve fathered a child out of wedlock himself, and neither visits nor supports his baby mama and his kid. He hangs out on his couch of dependency and does a lot of drugs. He's a high school dropout. He's every racist Republican's nightmare. They probably don't want him anywhere near the virtuous Andrea.

But Ryan isn't satisfied with just bashing indigent minorities for their "laziness". Since Mr. Gen-Poor is a drug addict, Ryan cynically surmises there is at least one career goal that fires him up. And that's the medical field! So he has Steve trade in his food stamps for a full-time job as a cashier to earn money while striving for his GED in order to attend Dental Assisting school while he's kicking drugs through ineffectual talk therapy and responsible parenting classes.

Now we've definitely gone from Disney to Dali. Ryan cannot be serious.There are no full-time cashier jobs for high school dropouts. There are hardly any full-time cashier jobs for college graduates! Even Ryan, given his own budgetary math disability, would probably flunk the Walmart aptitude test section that measures making correct change at the register.

 And a job in a dental office? Addiction is a lifelong chronic disease requiring intensive rehabilitation and support to keep it under control. Relapses are the rule. No medical professional with half a brain would dream of letting even a recovering addict anywhere near medication and prescription pads.

Ryan cannot be serious. But he can be very, very cruel. He has just effectively set Make-Believe Steve up by surrounding him with drugs in his work environment, thus condemning him to joblessness, and probably prison, followed by dumping back on the street for "humanitarian reasons", followed swiftly by a premature death.

But isn't that the whole point? The real star of the Poverty Plan is the Social Darwinism wolf in sheep's clothing.

The OGs (Opportunity Grants) from hell's marketplace should actually be called UGs.... or OMGs. As in, oh my god. 

This is Paul Ryan's Christmas in July greeting card to America.

"Get Well Soon" (photo by T. Garcia)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Deviant and the Damned

Ex-CIA Director George Tenet is notorious in the annals of atrocity for being an uncool punk with a cold, black heart. But unlike punk rocker Joan Jett and her Blackhearts band, he apparently does give a damn about his bad reputation. 

Waterboarding, he has long insisted, was simply a standard deviation, a perk of his exalted station. Like Adolf Eichmann, Tenet was simply following orders and doing his job when he defied the damned Geneva Conventions and ordered as many as 200 of his operatives to torture a whole bunch of people. It was just a terrible time when the elites running the joint experienced a strange bout of the fear normally reserved for the little people. The blowback of the 9/11 attacks blew their minds.

Even so, Tenet fears that he's going to look mighty strange when that long-suppressed and redacted Senate report on CIA torture comes out later this summer. And to that end, President Barack Obama is bending over backward to insure that Tenet and his co-conspirators are getting a chance to whitewash their own public relations disaster before the rest of us get a peek at it. (Because President Drone has already vowed there will be no such thing as a criminal indictment. What's past is past. We must look forward, not backward while bending over backward. It's a brand new hip generation. Above all, the Kill List president is counting on his own successor to continue paying it forward.)

Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times has the scoop: 
 Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.
Not surprisingly, Senate Moll Dianne Feinstein helped orchestrate the secret reading sessions for the spies. She apparently quickly recovered from her Senate floor hissy fit earlier this year, when she pretended to be shocked that her CIA buddies were spying on her staffers and hacking into congressional computers. Attorney General Eric Holder, who also never met a thug he didn't like, be they from Wall Street or from Langley, declined to prosecute the Spy vs. Spy imbroglio. Because like banks, the Senate and the CIA are too big to fail.

Senator Ron Wyden, the foil in this triangular kabuki drama, is dutifully playing his part of publicly whining that Obama is protecting the CIA branch of the organized crime cartel which poses as a representative democracy. But of course he never mentions that I word (impeachment.) That is reserved for the Republicans, who serve as useful idiots in the fomenting of primitive tribalism and survival of the Obama Victimization Cult. The GOP ignores the real corruption, because they are absolutely complicit in it. They concentrate on petty stuff, like who lied on Page 1,502 of the Affordable Care Act. It keeps Obama smelling like a wilted plastic rose. It keeps his low-40s approval rating artificially high among people fooled into picking between two sides of the same filthy coin.

Meanwhile, it's apparent from the preview of his own pseudo-indictment that the pseudo-disgraced George Tenet is still calling the shots. Although he'd been forced to resign during the Bush administration over faulty Iraq War intelligence, Bush later awarded him the Medal of Freedom. As a fabulously wealthy private surveillance state contractor and partner in a secretive boutique bank catering to the tech and entertainment industries, Tenet is still a valued part of the powerful and permanent Inner Circle, and remains close to Obama drone henchman and current CIA Chief John Brennan. It was Tenet who invented the Orwellian term "disposition matrix" as the go-to euphemism for government murder by Predator drone. So he is definitely owed.

The Defiant Deviant Duo of the Disposition Matrix: Obama and Brennan

And as for Obama himself? "I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture," he vowed in 2009.

On the other hand....

 "I am really good at killing people," he reportedly bragged to aides during his re-election campaign three years and thousands of drone deaths later.

An' I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
The world's in trouble, there's no communication
An' everyone can say what they wanna to say
It never gets better, anyway.
So why should I care about a bad reputation anyway?
Oh no, not me, oh no, not me.

Rock on, oh cool crypto-fascist Ship of State.

In related news, a European Human Rights Commission judge apparently did not get the "look forward" message from the Obama administration and defiantly ordered Poland to pay reparations to two torture victims who'd been "renditioned" to a CIA black site prison in that country during the Bush administration. The Obama administration still refuses to even confirm or deny the very existence of such prisons in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Those culpable countries are now vulnerable to prosecution while "the one indispensable nation" is not. Let us hope that the fear factor, if not the ethics factor, inspires Europe to resist calls from the American media-military-industrial complex to enter into World War III for a few drops more of oil and gas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gene Sperling's Advice to the Wealth-lorn

 Or: "How the zombie idea of privatizing Social Security can be reanimated by a concern-trolling Wall Street Democrat."

Former Clinton-Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, who brought you such populist hits as the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Sequester, has now written an op-ed in the New York Times, purporting to give advice to the struggling masses in this Age of Inequality:

Share Our Wealth! Invest in 401(k)s!We'll do all the paperwork!

Sperling, a former Goldman Sachs consultant who allegedly left the Obama administration this spring, is now affiliated with the Milken Institute, a think tank in Santa Monica, California. You may remember founder Michael Milken as the "junk bond king" who went to prison in the 90s, back when prosecutors actually prosecuted crooked financiers. Milken has since recouped his billions and has gained respectability in Democratic centrist circles as a political fund-raiser, fixer and philanthropist. And why not? The Age of Inequality is also the Age of Legalized Corruption. Banksters don't go to jail. They simply make deals with prosecutors to stay out of jail and continue victimizing the working stiffs of America.

But I digress. In his Times op-ed, Sperling cynically and ham-handedly bemoans the fact that poor people get less return on their savings than rich people. So what they should do is, hand over all their loose change to Wall Street. He doesn't actually come right out and call for privatizing Social Security, of course, but that's what he's ultimately suggesting within his double-talking verbiage:
A government-funded universal 401(k) would give lower- and moderate-income Americans a dollar-for-dollar matching credit for up to $4,000 saved annually per household. Upper-middle-class Americans could get at least a 60 percent match — doubling the incentive they get today. The match would be open to workers even if their employers were already matching, which would encourage employers to keep contributing to savings. The match would also be available through I.R.A. contributions for those who were self-employed or who wanted to keep saving even while they were temporarily not working.
Employers would have to provide automatic payroll deductions for their employees (while allowing those who still wanted to opt out to do so). Setting the default at “opting in” would ensure that workers did not miss out on the match provided by a universal 401(k). The government could set requirements for low fees, transparency and safety to allow for vigorous competition in the private sector while allowing individual savers access to a version of the plan that members of Congress use for their own retirement savings.
 This proposal is very similar, if not identical to, President Obama's own cynical "MyRA" scam that he rolled out to thundering silence at his State of the Union address this year. So it appears that the name is being changed to protect the malevolent. Sperling lumbers on for awhile before finally cutting to the chase:
 Costs need not be a roadblock. Among many ways to do it, moderate reforms to the estate tax could allow married couples to leave up to $7 million to their heirs tax-free (instead of the current $10.7 million) while generating over $200 billion in resources over the next decade, which could be used to help tens of millions of savers build their own estates. Even if a universal 401(k) ended up costing the government more than expected, it would still increase national savings overall if the public incentives led to additional private savings.
The Reagan zombie is resurrected. It's all trickle-down, all the time. Why didn't Sperling just say so in the first place?  My published comment (which, in retrospect, was more polite than this charlatan deserves):
Since Gene Sperling was touting cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal with the GOP as recently as last fall, his universal 401(K) proposal sounds suspiciously like a Wall Street gateway drug to the privatization of FDR's great social insurance program.
Given that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have any savings simply because there's no money left after they eat, heat and barely survive, this op-ed is a tad disingenuous. And that's putting it kindly.
The part about lowering the cap on the estate tax to $7 million to help the savers of the future is a dead giveaway that this advice column is not meant for the average working stiff or unemployed person -- who's lucky to have two nickels to rub together after robbing Peter to pay Paul every month.
 Sperling does not explain how the $200 billion generated by estate tax reform would help anybody but the trust fund kids.
Here's a thought. How about sending a stimulus check to every man, woman and child in America to spend or save as they see fit? It would provide an immediate boost to the economy. How about raising or scrapping the cap on FICA contributions to ensure the solvency of the trust fund into perpetuity?
How about letting students borrow at the same low rates as banks? How about a guaranteed national income or living wage law?
Enough of these Very Serious and immodest proposals from economists who pretend to care about wealth inequality in an election year.
Speaking of the Krugmanism "very serious people," I suspect that Sperling's op-ed is just part of the vast muffled, orchestrated cry of the wealthy who are being unfairly ignored in this election year.... because politicians don't dare talk about cutting entitlements and immiserating the poor when their own political hides also are contingent upon pretending to care for the voters. The sadism has to be euphemized. Or in this case, Sperlingized. They won't rob you with a six-gun. They'll do it under cover of darkness....  with a Fulgor Nocturnis.

Sperling was among the plutocratic culprits sounding the false alarm over the debt and deficit crisis, debunked soundly in Paul Krugman's last column. So they have to come up with ever newer ways of saying the exact same thing. The latest way is smarmy concern-trolling as a means of stealing from the public and getting even more for themselves.

As I wrote in my comment to the Krugman piece,
If the debt crisis is such a crock, why are we still saddled with austerity? Correction: why are we still saddled with austerity that exempts the bloated war machine, the surveillance state, and corporate welfare for the super-rich?
It's been estimated that the $398 billion wasted on the F-35 fighter alone could buy each of the 600,000 homeless Americans a $600,000 home. And the GOP is having meltdowns over a paltry $10.10 minimum wage? They'll only fix our roads if employers can delay paying into pension plans?
Deficit hysteria might currently be on "mute," but signs of its undeadness are still out there. Surviving at the White House website is a braggy blurb about the trillions already achieved in deficit reduction, but how "we" still have a ways to go toward "living within our means." Chained CPI for Social Security might be officially gone this election year, but then-Press Sec. Jay Carney assured us that it's still on the table should the GOP ever choose to join the feasting on the old, the sick, and the poor.
Paul Ryan is merely resting his hysterical voice, reclining on his elite hammock of dependency during his Ayn Rand summer reading break.
Meanwhile, even the progressive caucus's proposed "Better Off Budget" devotes $1 trillion more to deficit reduction than it does to investments over the next decade. 
 The austerity cult refuses to die. Could it be because the only people who care about the debt and the deficit are the fat cat plutocrats running the place?

Sperling (left) Joins Obama At the Feast

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

White House OKs Underwater Torture Chamber

With all eyes glued on the atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, another homegrown atrocity may soon be underway. The Obama administration has quietly executed one of those sneaky summer weekend news dumps in hopes of nobody noticing or caring. Because what, after all, are pods of insane dolphins, and hordes of dead turtles, and the extinction of an entire whale species compared to hundreds of battered human bodies?

 From Think Progress:
On Friday, the  U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the use of seismic airguns to explore the seabed from Cape May to Cape Canaveral for oil and gas.
These sonic cannons are compressed airguns that get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. The waves travel through the water and through the ocean floor, bouncing back up at different rates to provide prospective drillers and researchers a better sense of where oil, gas, minerals, and sand lie beneath the waves.
 It’s not a surprise that this is dangerous: even BOEM estimates that this practice will disrupt, injure, or kill millions of marine animals, including the most endangered whale species on the planet. It is less surprising that this risky tactic would be approved in large part to ferret out another source of fossil fuels, risking another BP disaster and emitting more pollution that causes global warming. It’s more surprising that this gambit is being entertained in an area that may not even have that much oil or gas. 
So why is the Obama administration entertaining it? Because he already ticked off "climate change" on his legacy to-do list by trumpeting proposals to reduce carbon emissions at some vague time in the future.  Because compromised politicians want the waters off their sacrosanct borders opened up for the extraction of every last single drop of oil and gas, regardless of the cost. Because the president wants to start handing out drilling leases before he leaves office in 2017. Because there is lots and lots and lots of money to be made for a select few pockets.

As Herman Melville saliently observed in Moby-Dick, "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

  Perhaps the urbane crowd is hoping that all the audio-executed marine life washing up on our beaches can be recycled into cheap fertilizer, or even cat food for the poor. Notice that the watering holes of the rich and famous -- the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard (where the Obamas vacation) and Newport -- have so far been granted immunity from having their vistas spoiled by the detritus of the torture ships. Only the waters from Virginia to Florida will be opened to deep-sea blast-mapping.

Still, since the intense sound waves generated by the exploratory rigs can travel for thousands of miles underwater, no pristine shoreline will be immune from the sights and smells of beached whales and rotting turtle carcasses. Maybe once rich people run out of Maine lobsters to feast upon, we'll hear an uproar. By then, of course, it will be too late.

The insatiable oil company executives and the insatiable politicians who serve them will have laughed all the way to the bank.

 Oil Change International activist Steve Kretzman told The Nation's Zoe Carpenter earlier this year,
As the supply of oil and gas goes up, the cost the market perceives for it is going down, thus encouraging more consumption—which is exactly the signal the climate demands that we do not send. If we had a perfect market for energy, working on the demand side alone might do it. But we’re not remotely close to that. Oil is controlled globally by a cartel, heavily subsidized by taxpayers around the world, and insulated from paying various substantial costs such as health, pollution clean-up, military support, and of course the social cost of carbon.
Importantly, stopping greater supply is the best way to stand in the way of Big Oil’s power. You give them access to more oil and gas, they’ll make more profits, and spend more money both looking for even more oil and gas as well as bribing politicians and throwing armies of lawyers at regulations. [Emphasis added]

These industries are based on, and profit from, finding more and more of something that science says we have more than enough of. Every additional field is a step in the wrong direction. It has to start stopping somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that nine oil companies had been heavily lobbying the White House to get moving on the ocean audio assault, with Obama's resulting acquiescence causing a "seismic rift" with activists:
Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.
 "For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,'' said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. "Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money."
Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project, called seismic exploration "a gateway drug to offshore drilling."
But the oil industry didn't get everything it wanted.
OK. This is the part where should you brace yourself for Obama's cynical "balanced approach."

The fig leaf: Obama, lover of wildlife that he is, will insist that the torture ships include human monitors to scan the waters for breaching whales and other signs of life before they they proceed to destroy the life that they cannot see. If "thar she blows," then the sound-harpoons must be held in abeyance.

And here's the part where the oil cartel hilariously pretends to be very, very miffed at the government's outrageous strong-arm "humanitarian" tactics:
The American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other groups were unable to persuade the Interior Department to scale back proposed time-outs to watch for animals before starting testing and requirements that companies shut down activities when dolphins and other animals are nearby.

The petroleum institute has called those restrictions "arbitrary and unnecessary," asserting they were based on flawed projections about the number of animals that could be hurt.
"Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations,'' API's upstream director, Erik Milito, said Friday."Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements."
 Other limitations formalized Friday include closing access to the migratory routes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and prohibiting multiple seismic surveys from being conducted simultaneously.
This is the propaganda that lulls the public into thinking that a meaningless "balanced approach" which juggles the rights of polluters to profit and the rights of helpless animals to live is tantamount to ethical policy. It's one more example of the lesser evilism philosophy purporting to justify the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism through measurement of allowable collateral damage. No more than one dead sea turtle per barrel of oil! No more than one demented dolphin pod per sea floor gas field! On paper, anyway. Artificial restrictions, like the medieval plenary indulgences that got rich sinners into heaven, shall grease what's left of their rudimentary moral compasses.
The administration stopped short of requiring companies to use still-developing, quieter technologies for mapping what lies below the seabed.Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency relied on public comments, scientific research and other evidence in developing the safeguards, first outlined in February.
"We are taking every step we think is reasonable to try and put those protections in place while still allowing surveys to occur," Cruikshank told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama administration is nothing if not reasonable. The auditory comfort and mental health of marine life will not be allowed to interfere with progress. The fish larvae which may be killed in the blasts should have picked more responsible parents, I guess. If whales are discomposed by the noise, they should just evacuate the blast areas and find different lodgings.... that is, if the deafening roar hasn't already interfered with their sense of direction.

As Claire Douglass of Oceana writes, Obama's cave to big oil could also have the untoward effect of destroying three quarters of a million jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. And never mind the abuse of human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If underwater creatures had rights, the blast-mapping proposal would probably be deemed torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions:
According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
 "Sound and light bombardment is used to disorient, cause anxiety, and even contribute to personality disintegration, as well as to deprive the person of sleep. It is often combined with other tactics," reports the UN Committee against Torture. That body has also determined that “sounding of loud music for prolonged periods” constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment both when it is used in combination with other methods of interrogation and when it is used by itself.

And auditory torture is still being used at Guantanamo, according to human rights groups. From The Justice Campaign:
 Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.
Meanwhile, Obama is threatened with lawsuits on grounds of making too many recess appointments and over-tinkering with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Impeachment on grounds of both human and animal cruelty, however, is not on the table.

 "For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men." -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

The Endangered Right Whale: Latest Torture Victim

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Field Notes From a Lagging Indicator

By William Neil


Anyone with a social conscience or who has just followed the news since 2010 knows that the struggle for decent health care is not an issue that can stand isolated from other intimately intertwined factors, although our medical and political system tries to keep it that way. My tale  is not unique….it has been already lived by millions if not tens of millions of others, and the pattern by now has become a familiar horror story, if not a drill: a medical crisis leads to an income crisis which leads to a housing crisis…which can in turn create a further medical crisis.  My situation is not the worst, but it is mine and it seems bad enough, so I thought I would share it with Sardonicky readers because living it out in silence does no one any good, and indeed, seems to me to be a form of acquiescence if not complicity with the status quo.  

What follows began as a dialogue triggered by an essay recently sent out by William Greider on the failures of the Democratic Party…I shared my response with those on the Email list and it turned into a dialogue with one of the recipients on the efficacy, or not, of our new health care system, the ACA. From my email sent out earlier this month:

“Thanks for getting back to me.  Just for the greater public interest and your own education, my private life and struggles are now going public, and I've increasingly been working that perspective into my last four essays, over the past three years.  So here are my facts, and I won't take them any further than the Affordable Care Act’s reality for me.  I hope the President's plan has been able to help millions.  

I receive early SS retirement, reduced amount, out of economic necessity, well under $1500; I receive a small NJ pension under $500 and work part time at Target for $8.97 per hour.  As my second year evaluation rolled around in April, I received a 22 cent per hour raise bringing me to that figure.  I got a good evaluation.  My 2013 gross income was just under $34,000.  I am single, divorced.  I applied for the OCA (That should be ACA but I guess the “O” for Obama, does just as well) on Dec. 17, 2013 plugged in all the numbers on the Maryland Exchange and was told quickly and bluntly that I did not qualify for a) Medicaid (income cut-off 14,000) and b) any subsidy. 

Now I live in one of the most expensive counties in the country, Montgomery County, MD but none of these calculations take that into account, only the income.  The County Council's own numbers show that the minimum wage required to be out of poverty is $17.50 per hour.  I finish most months with only $100-$200 to spare, sometimes less, and have been living on the edge that way for two years now.   I haven't missed a credit card payment yet, but my two bills for the cards are $140 each and bound to rise as the $20,000 in medical bills, or more, is, as slowly as I can manage, added to them.  My rent is 1,450 per month and I have to pay all utilities.  I still owe my landlord for several months’ rent when my savings ran out three years ago and before the Social Security arrived and I had to go back to work.  I live at his forbearance on a month-to-month lease and have, most months, paid him what I can spare as “back rent” owed.  

For further economic clarification, and in preparation for testimony before a Republican ethics committee on debtors and personal character, I have not purchased a single appliance or capital good for the past ten years; two pots and pans and a computer (replacing an eight year old one, and a necessity in modern life) in 2011, which went, along with car repairs, auto insurance and vet bills for my beloved Josie, a Belgian Malinois now deceased, on the credit cards out of necessity.  My last vacation was 2006 and I didn't pay for it.  My car is 14 years old - a VW beetle from much happier times.

So when my heart crisis arose out of the blue (I've never smoked and don't drink) with no prior I am.  Over the past week I've spent hours on the phone to utilize the "life event” (I guess they don’t like to use the word crisis, which is surely what it is) clause of OCA in MD, and the drop in income at Target of 50% means I can get a subsidy of $333 per month on the premium and 73% on the co-pays and deductibles...but the only plan I can make is still $165 for the premium plus 900 deductibles and 5200 out of pocket (reduce them by 73%) plus whatever the plan is on drugs (I’ll pay 20-30%).  So very helpful, but still an additional expense with my reduced income and other fixed costs. Ah, I forgot to add an important detail: failing to qualify for ACA/OCA in December, I was planning on picking up Target’s medical coverage for part time workers, at a pretty affordable rate. Unfortunately, they dropped it entirely in the early winter of 2014.

I spent most of today on the phone with our Montgomery County's housing assistance programs.  We are one of the most progressive and sophisticated county governments in the nation.  There is no additional money, long waiting lists (years in some cases) and/or lottery luck for any/all of the housing problems.  Summary: no help on the horizon and none likely to arrive.  If I get an eviction notice, I can get emergency help for one month rent and security deposit...but there are no available public housing places...go read the private want ads was the advice. The system, as one neighbor told me, gets you a little more help when you are homeless, surrounded by your belongings, sitting  in the middle of the street – destitute, in other words.  In preventing that destitution, there is almost no help, and women with dependent children will, rightly so, be first in line.   I told the social worker that I would kill myself before entering the group shelter system.  He seemed to take that easily in stride.  I don’t know if that is courage or cowardice on my part, and I won’t know until if and when I stare that situation in the face.  And I guess it will depend on your  point of view.  I’m trying now not to have that staring match.

I live in the smallest one story house type in the entire county built in 1953: about 1100 sq. feet.  I don't know if I can survive, if I can find, a small one bedroom apt. near me - they all seem to be 1200-1400 help.

So that's the story.  With a great deal of luck I can make the August rent, no way September.   I have no criminal record, great driving record (although my eyesight is now going downhill) and have 1400 pages - or more than four large books - in essays written over seven years've seen two brief unpolished samples...Such is the state of my state, and our social service "net" for someone in my circumstances at age 64.  If the heart troubles (two bouts of angioplasty) don't kill me, the stress of just facing this reality probably will.  When I was discharged last week from the hospital after my first operation, I saw the listing of psychological factors contributing to heart disease centered on various types of stress.  I scored an A+ on each of them…the basic facts of my life over the past nine years.

And I apologize now for using the term medical "Gulag," that is not the best description.  

My mounting waiting room experience though, the beaten, bent people who are being shepherded through a very impersonal system with high technological capabilities and very low humanity treatment ones,  leaves me still with the sense that I am in a vast "refugee" flow...that's what it feels appointments aside from the one hospital procedure and one due next week led me to this vision: rather than a "Gulag,"…the complexes where I get diagnosed, blood and credit drawn out of me...are in sprawling one and two story office complexes that go on for square mile after square mile around Shady Grove the old industrial towns of Newark, Philadelphia,  Camden and Detroit in their glory days,  there is a vast subdivision of labor and practice which fragments the experience and ups the demands on patients.  It is industrial medicine and I had no idea of the tremendous and confusing physical network which surrounds the hospital. 

 My last trip to the blood lab, yesterday, went like this:  I saw my cardiologist Tues...he said you need this blood work, and  have to fast ten hours; I went to the Quest firm, right next door; they don't have a receptionist or an office manager it seems, they all multitask, but I couldn't verbally set up an appointment, face-to-face at their office,  I had to call and go through an automated system.  When I finally set it up, two days later, and when I went in after fasting at 9:30 for a 10:00 appointment…they said they had no record of it...but took me anyhow after a 35-40 minute wait.  The person who drew the blood had a credit card machine right in the examination drawing room; I told her I only wanted to put $50 down, but the system would take only the full swipe for $306.  We made each other laugh with the absurdity; but that afternoon I left critical comments about the low morale, lack of receptionist and no office manager to keep it going – and praised the humanity of the worker, caught, along with me, in this vast system of extraction.  And reminding them of the outrageousness of the credit card machine in an examination room....

That's all for now, thanks for asking, I needed to get this word out.  My "samizdat."  I really don't know if I will make it and only the  glimmer of the hope that I can tell the story, almost as it happens in real time,  to change what others might have to face,  keeps me going. “

Bill Neil
Rockville, MD
PS  I have emerged alive from my second round of angioplasty, or cardiac catheterization, in technical terms.  I tried my best to keep a sense of humanity alive in all my interactions with so many people caught up in this vast system, and I had some wonderfully frank exchanges with nurses, aides and cleaning people.  In some ways, I was working to keep their spirits up, besides my own, knowing a bit about “life on the job.”  But I failed on the last day, after my overnight stay, waiting and wading through the prolonged “discharge process.” It was the knowledge, beyond my own health and the medical aspects of the hospital, that upon my walking out of that recovery room, I would be heading down to visit the “charity” application office for help in dealing with the vast bills I had accumulated without any medical “coverage.”  I knew better, the full risks of not having insurance at my age, of skipping check-ups and all the tests that ought to be run after one turns 50-55, much less 60.  And I had lived with and been married to an emergency room doctor myself, a wonderful woman…but the bleak, on the edge finances of the last five years of my life overruled all, seem now like a vast, blind driving fate I could not overcome.  And the last part of my body that I thought would let me down, my heart, had done so.   So I was angry and yelled at the nurse’s station that after their good medical care I was going to face the grim financial reaper, that was the other side of it and I could not suppress the anger.  My discharge nurse then gave me a pep talk about keeping a “positive attitude.”  She was very, very good, in retrospect, but that wasn’t her best moment – nor mine either. 


(Ed. note -- I'd also like to direct readers to this recent essay by activist and writer Bill Neil.)