Sunday, August 31, 2014

The War on Job Corps

The first Monday in September was originally designated as "Labor Day" for the sole purpose of appeasing working stiffs who'd revolted against management in the bloody Pullman Strike of 1894. The legend that the Knights of Labor founded the holiday is only half true. That union did once hold a parade on the first Monday in September -- but Labor Day's eventual legal designation as a paid national holiday was essentially an olive branch proffered by nervous robber barons and the politicians who've always served them so well.

The other pro-labor day, May 1st, is observed in most other civilized countries and all but ignored in the United States. The irony is that this global May Day was inspired by Chicago's 19th century Haymarket Massacre. What happened in America not only didn't stay in America, it has been hidden and suppressed even as its pro-worker spirit has spread throughout the rest of the globe.

But aren't we constantly being reminded how exceptional America is? In America, a country of laws for everybody but the banks and the surveillance state, May 1 has been officially designated "Law Day." You are legally required to go to work, and not agitate.

Even Labor Day USA has been bowdlerized into a forced celebration of the last day of summer, the last weekend we can fire up the grill, cavort at the beach, and gambol in the town square to the sound of all-American brass bands and  politicians in taupe suits and flag pins tepidly wheezing out one tired platitude after another.

Labor Day USA is a special day to perpetuate the myth that the bosses, the politicians, and the workers are all part of one big American family. We get a three-day weekend! It ranks right up there with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July!  It is one of onlya handful of  paid national holidays. Unless, of course, you happen to work at Walmart or McDonalds, or wherever minimum wage is paid and paid days off are a Marxist pipe dream.

Labor Day USA should be extra-special this year, because it marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ's Job Corps Program, a natural Great Society offshoot of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps. Although "unknown to most Americans," (by design?) it serves 60,000 of us every single year. As Time reports,
In total, some 2.7 million young people have participated in the Jobs Corps since President Lyndon Johnson launched the program as part of his Great Society initiative in 1964. And just like in the 1960’s, participants come from the harshest of circumstances. Still, 80 percent of program graduates leave with a full-time occupation.
With a successful track record like that, you'd think that President Obama and Congress would be champing at the bit to expand this program in order to alleviate our record wealth disparity and epidemic of wage stagnation and chronic unemployment and underemployment. Of course, you would then be thinking wrong. This, after all, is Exceptional America. The budget of the Job Corps has been cut in every succeeding year of the Obama administration, with the usual "mismanagement of funds" and "poor performance" excuses thrown out to justify the slow but sure whittling away of this valuable social safety net program.

Obama has proposed a permanent reduction in the Job Corps' "slot capacity" in his 2015 budget. Translated from Orwellian Newspeak, this means that about 10,000 at-risk youths will be left with no place to go. Since Job Corps centers feed and house participants as well as train them for careers, this will mean 10,000 more at-risk youths on the streets in such dystopian locales as Chicago and Ferguson.

If you needed any more evidence that the Obama administration's first allegiance is to tax-evading plutocrats who dictate prosperity for themselves and austerity hardship for the rest of us, look no further than the White House's own budgetary web-page for an explanation of why he is making these draconian cuts that harm some of the most vulnerable members of our society:
The Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with promoting the welfare of workers, job seekers, and retirees, which are key Administration priorities as our economy continues to recover and we work toward strengthening America’s competitive edge globally. The Department’s budget reflects the need to make sacrifices in many areas in order to invest in job creation and boost competitiveness for years to come. Accordingly, the President’s Budget provides $12.8 billion for DOL, a 5 percent reduction from the 2010 enacted level. To support effective job training programs, the Budget shifts resources from an underutilized portion of formula grants for states to a new Workforce Innovation Fund. Savings and efficiencies are achieved through a reduction in funding for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services; and through a 25 percent reduction in the Job Corps construction budget. The Budget increases funding for worker protection and mine safety programs that were underfunded in the previous administration and are critical to Americans’ health and safety.
Translation: the little people must sacrifice in order that multinational corporations may profit globally and perpetually. No need to waste money on training programs for the dregs of society when the ravenous plutocrats can scrape the dregs in any corrupt Banana Republic at their disposal.("invest in job creation and boost competitiveness.")

The "workforce innovation fund" being diverted from the direct government-run Job Corps will include $53 million in grants to private businesses for use in training programs that in former democratic times, were funded by the employers themselves. Priority will be given to corporations that can prove they don't discriminate against veterans or the LGBT community and thus enable the predatory rentier class to feel good about themselves. It's all part of the neoliberal agenda of private profit at public expense that was sparked by Ronald Reagan and is raging full steam ahead under Barack Obama.

And to make creeping fascism more palatable to the American public, the job of demonizing the Job Corps is falling to the usual suspects in the sycophantic press. The tactic of destroying public education by closing "poor-performing"  schools in poor neighborhoods and firing unionized teachers is now also being extended to the Job Corps training centers. Rather than blaming their own poverty-inducing policies, the ruling class is blaming the programs that get in the way of profit and privatization. They forget to mention that any alleged poor performance is directly linked to low funding. And to the orchestrated epidemic of poverty itself.

One such Job Corps center, in a pristine yet indigent section of rural Oklahoma, is being closed in the wake of a Washington Post report revealing that half its trainees are either failing to complete the program or are failing to find jobs in their chosen fields upon graduating. The neoliberal agenda is trumpeted right in the scare-mongering headline:

 Great Society At 50: LBJ's Job Corps will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion this year: Does It Work?

Need we even read the article to get the answer to that question? Are readers ever even informed of the high success rate nation-wide? Reporter David A. Farenthold (more about him in a minute) cuts to the chase:
In the middle of an Oklahoma wildlife refuge — at a campus so remote that buffalo wander in — about 100 young people are taking classes in the hope that the U.S. government can turn their lives around.Given the statistics, most of them will be disappointed.
So many turns of slanted, right-wing free-market phrase in just a few little sentences. Job Corps: on a veritable game preserve in the middle of Nowheresville. A hundred youths, barely distinguishable from the herds of smelly cattle plodding around, are passively relying on the Nanny State to turn their lives around, when they could be acting proactive in Bootstrapville. They are instantly dehumanized and reduced to disappointing numbers.
This is the Treasure Lake Job Corps center, an outpost of a job-training program created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The program began with a noble, untested idea: Government could save troubled youths one at a time, taking them in and teaching them a trade.Today, students here learn subjects such as cooking, nursing and plumbing from employees of the U.S. Forest Service. A year of education and job placement costs taxpayers about $45,000, more than tuition at Georgia Tech.
There's that outpost at the back of beyond characterization again, when they should be out on the streets where the Washington Post can see them. And just think, they could even be going to college and owing a fortune in student loans to predatory lenders!
But at last count, only about 49 percent of Treasure Lake’s students completed their job training.
Guess what, Farenthold? The graduation rate at Georgia Tech has fallen for the fourth straight year, and is now at an abysmal 31%! So tear that college down, pronto, lest the taxpayers be peeved. (On second thought, never mind: their football program is still making scads and scads of dough. And even the non-grads are still on the hook for those usurious loans. So it's all peachy-keen.)

But Farenthold continues weaving his web of lies anyway:
The struggles of this place — and of the Job Corps program as a whole — have come to illustrate two powerful legacies of the Great Society. The first is that the government has vastly expanded its ambition to improve individual lives.
The "this place" (populated by "those people") phrase hovers uncomfortably close to a racial dog whistle.

For that matter, so does the bit about the government expanding its ambition to improve lives. As Paul Krugman and others have proven time and time again, the federal government has actually reduced the rate of spending on social programs, to the lowest levels in decades. Nor is this smear job on Job Corps  the first time Farenthold has spread the lie of government overspending and government inefficiency in programs that benefit ordinary people. He even tried to trash Medicare this summer by comparing it to the Russian Mafia. It seems that disabled people have been ripping off the taxpayers by joy-riding on motorized wheelchairs! Lucky for us, he approached the wrong source to get his scoop. Dave Farenthold, sycophant to the plutocratic centrists, got himself well and truly exposed by Wheelchair Junkie.

Another clue to Farenthold's deviousness is that he not only takes right-wing budgetary flim-flam man Paul Ryan seriously, he is seriously turned on by Ryan's lanky, sexy, sadistic wonkiness and their mutual hatred of Medicare and old people everywhere.

But I digress. Farenthold also cannot stand the thought of undeserving younger people daring to make themselves at home where the buffalo roam when they could be wage slaves at Walmart or drive-by shooting victims:
But Job Corps is still very popular in Washington, among lawmakers of both parties.

It is still considered a success — at least as “success” is defined now, after a hard and disappointing 50-year war on poverty.
The poor are still alive in places. The war on the poor has not been a success. So let's blame the poor, and rile up the white people.
The Job Corps program has 125 centers across the country. The students come as volunteers, some recruited by an online ad campaign: “Every day is a fresh start at Job Corps.”
To enroll, they must be from low-income families and at least 16 years old. More than half lack a high school diploma. Once accepted, nearly all students live at a center rent-free. Most stay there between nine and 11 months. In addition to academic and vocational classes, students also learn how to write a résumé and how to interview with an employer.
 It is an expensive way to get somebody a job.
What a bunch of moochers, living rent-free when there is such a demanding plethora of rent-seeking predators for whom too much is never enough. These kids learning a trade are snatching the caviar right out of the Kochs' mouths as far as Farenthold is concerned. He goes on to mutter over his keyboard that if Job Corps is such a great success, why are people on food stamps while these ghetto kids are living the life of Riley in a charm school? Really. Read his whole article for yourself, because I am feeling way too nauseous to continue.

But anyway, Farenthold's hatchet job on Job Corps was apparently a huge success, because just days before Official Labor Day USA, the Obama administration scheduled the Oklahoma training center for closure. And the Labor Department is looking for even more centers to shut down. With a 51% non-completion rate, Treasure Lake is only the first among many public treasures ripe for the privateer grant-plucking. Pretty soon even a 75% retention rate will be declared officially inefficient.

Obama to Youth: Go Jump In the Lake

When Job Corps students quit, it's called a failure. When college students quit, their institutions  simply have a non-retention problem. Even if both classes of student dropped out at approximately the same rates, (and Job Corps has much better stats) you don't hear the plutocrats calling for colleges to be shut down. That's because while both are in the business of education, one category is a money-maker for corporations and the other is not.
And speaking of quitters and slackers, look at Congress, due back in Washington this week after a month of laboring for private dollars on the public dime and against the public interest. Of the 9,732 bills and resolutions currently before them, only about 5% will become law.
That is a 95% failure rate.
Cut off the spigot, and throw the bums out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Double Agent Doubletalk

I had to read this McClatchy piece twice, just to make sure I wasn't seeing double.

Here's the gist: a criminal lawyer who used to defend CIA torturers, and who was confirmed to a government post in 2009 only upon his solemn oath that he'd recuse himself from any investigations having to do with the CIA, has been given the go-ahead by the Obama administration to censor the Senate report on CIA torture and other patriotic crimes against "folks."

Senate CIA Moll Dianne Feinstein (D-Surveillance State) has absolutely no problem with this, while Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) is reprising his role as vocal but impotent CIA critic. His sidekick, Ron Wyden (D-OR/NYC)  is MIA for this particular article.

Elsewhere among the cognoscenti, the usual concerns have been sparked about the prima facie impropriety. And the usual suspects in the White House along with their Security State overseers are striving mightily to douse the sparks with the usual drivel. In other words, just trust them -- they can all police themselves. Just like Wall Street polices itself and there is no economic meltdown, mortgage fraud, income inequality or stagnating wages.

The gory details:
Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a former defense lawyer who represented several CIA officials in matters relating to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Now he’s in a key position to determine what parts of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report will be made public.
Litt’s involvement doesn’t appear to be an ethics issue, at least by the legal definition. But experts say that while it may be acceptable on paper, his involvement in the review should have been a red flag.
No, it was actually a white flag that this investigation has been a sham from the get-go. The usual suspects are performing the usual parsing, differentiating between legality (yawn) and ethics (whatever they define it as.)
Litt, who’s now 64, was confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate in 2009, contingent upon his agreement to recuse himself from situations that involved his former clients. He referred to the potential conflict in his responses to the Intelligence panel’s questions for the record, submitted during the course of his confirmation process.
“I represent several present and former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in matters relating to the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists,” Litt wrote to the committee in 2009. “By statute, under the rules of ethics and by virtue of my ethics agreement that has been provided to the committee, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving these clients . . . including decisions about similarly situated individuals.”
So what might have happened is that he gave a friend a list of all his clients, and then that friend redacted those names from the Senate report so that Litt could later claim clean hands on his pesky ethics promise. He couldn't possibly have censored stuff about his own clients, because that stuff had been pre-censored for his convenience. Or, so my cynical supposition goes.
Litt’s prior representations, however, didn’t seem to bother Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and who approved the arrangement.
“I spoke with Bob Litt about this matter and believe he will be fair, and negotiations thus far have shown that to be the case,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The DNI’s designated ethics official has reviewed the situation and determined there is no conflict that would necessitate a recusal.”
Key words: I spoke with Bob Litt . It is a truth universally acknowledged that as long as DiFi is kept within the secrecy loop, she is okay with flouting democracy. If the secrecy folks say they're not doing anything wrong in secret, then who are we to challenge them? You'd think we weren't living in a democracy or something. So in retrospect, I guess it is unfair of me to say that DiFi can be flouting something that doesn't even exist in the first place.
The conversations between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the administration about Litt’s past representations and their approval of his involvement effectively waive charges of a conflict of interest, at least by rules of the legal profession.
“If he advised them on their legal exposure by virtue of their conduct and this report blasts them for that same conduct, he should not participate with regard to that part of the report,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in legal ethics. “However, if everyone involved waives their objections, it wipes the slate clean.”
Now we're really getting into the Orwellian verbiage. Only if Litt was planning to condemn his former clients in his capacity as their former defense lawyer should he recuse himself from the censorship project. But, since he either already decided to absolve them or since their names have already been erased from the report anyway, then everything is hunky-dory in Ethics World. "Everyone involved" does not, of course, include the American public. Stephen Gillers just kind of admitted that "legal ethics" is an oxymoron.
All of Litt’s former CIA clients also would have to waive a potential conflict, Gillers said. Administration officials wouldn’t say whether that occurred.
Because they're the Most Transparent Administration Ever (TM). Since Litt's former clients do not officially exist, how can they waive their rights?
Citing attorney-client privilege, Litt declined in 2009 to name several of his clients who were involved in “nonpublic investigative matters.” Later in his responses to the committee, he said that some of the matters for which he’d provided counsel to CIA officials were classified.
Neither the White House nor Feinstein’s office would characterize Litt’s prior representation during his time in private practice. When asked whether Litt had represented former senior CIA officials involved in the interrogation program, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, also citing attorney-client privilege.
It's the old "it's classified" defense again. Attorney-client privilege exists even if the clients are wraiths. On the other hand, if they're wraiths, they cannot exist. Wraiths ain't got no rights.
 According to reports in The Washington Post, Litt previously represented a CIA analyst, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, who played a central role in the bungled rendition of Khaled el-Masri. El-Masri, who was revealed to be innocent, claimed to have been tortured by the agency.
Bring me the head of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky! Oh wait.... she is a rightless wraith. This name assuredly does not exist in the 6,000+ page Senate Torture Report. But wait! Bikowsky was not only allegedly the inspiration for the glorified CIA torturer character in the infamous CIA-scripted  "Zero Dark Thirty" film, she remains one of Obama's favorite analysts. She even got promoted, despite failing miserably at her job. That whole sordid story is here.
“I have been concerned all along about conflicts of interest related to the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study,“ said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the panel. “I urged the president in April to have the White House lead the declassification process instead of the CIA. . . . The redaction process has not been conducted in accordance with my request, and I remain concerned about who continues to lead and drive the process.”
He doesn't remain concerned enough, however, to just go ahead and leak the whole unredacted report, or accuse the Obama administration of fraud, corruption and deceit.
It’s been a long, difficult history for the panel’s study on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, which has been a source of major deterioration in the relationship between the agency and the Senate oversight committee. The report’s executive summary is nearing public release. But the White House and its chief spy agency have effectively stalled even that process.
The Intelligence panel began compiling the report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention, rendition and interrogation program in 2009. The report, although completed in 2012, has been held hostage because of fierce debates between the agency and the panel.
Release it already!  You cannot hold mere bundles of paper hostage unless you want to. Unless, of course, our elected officials are all kidnappers and terrorists. Or in a best case scenario, unpatriotic cowards who are not willing to go to jail for the sake of a principle, like Chelsea Manning. On second thought.... 

Those disputes culminated last month when the agency revealed that it had spied on the computers of committee staffers who were compiling the report. The agency also revealed that, during the course of the spying, CIA officials had falsified evidence against the committee staffers in order to charge them with mishandling classified information.
Feinstein’s panel voted to declassify the nearly 500-page executive summary of its report in April, but that’s been indefinitely halted because of disagreements over the report’s blackouts. The document that was returned to the committee after the executive branch’s declassification review was rendered incomprehensible due to redactions, according to Feinstein and several of her Democratic committee colleagues.
Anything to keep the folk-torturing details secret for as long as possible. Incomprehensible crimes committed by folks whom Obama has deemed to be "patriots" are already incomprehensible enough, DiFi. Release the damn report!
  The crux of the redactions, officials said, are the pseudonyms used to identify CIA officials involved with the program. Feinstein and several of her fellow Democrats appealed to the White House that it _ not the agency _ lead the declassification process for the executive summary.
No can do, DiFi. Obama has enough on his plate already without the added stress of having to make up initials to hide the identity of Alfreda Bikowsky.... or even worse, his BFF and Kill List partner, CIA Director John Brennan.
Their appeals fell on deaf ears, as the White House has deferred to the agency’s leadership throughout the declassification effort. White House national security Council? (sic) representative Caitlin Hayden defended Litt’s involvement, as well.
“Bob Litt is one of the administration’s strongest proponents of transparency in intelligence, consistent with our national security, and he and we are fully committed to ensuring there is no conflict of interest as the administration continues to work to see the results of the committee’s review made public,” Hayden said in a statement.
The White House remains in a committed relationship, with all its torrid transparency conducted behind closed doors as they work together to ensure that the tattered tortuous remains of torture are rendered into literary black sites.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Now, release the damn report.


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Note to readers: I will be away, so little to no blogging for the rest of the month.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Billionaire's Pledge to the Lowly

The one and only reason that Sean Eldridge will stay honest if you elect him to Congress is because he's already got so much money that he is virtually bribe-proof. Since he is married to the privacy-destroying cofounder of Facebook, he has your interests at heart. Yes. He actually does come right out and basically say that to a group of "folks" who are either nodding in agreement or just nodding off in a political hack-induced stupor. You decide:

I've written about Sean before. (I actually made a mistake in that other piece: he is a billionaire, not a mere multimillionaire.) He's the guy who fled from an interview with the Politico gossip rag earlier this year, for fear that they would call him out as a plutocratic carpetbagger trying to buy an election. Which they did anyway, without his cooperation.

Sean Eldridge: Vote for Me because I am filthy rich.

Suck On This

Two months after the Obama administration, in a cave to Big Tobacco, weakened its own proposed rules on the sales and advertising of e-cigarettes, the World Health Organization is now urging a complete about-face.

"Vaping" is dangerous:
(Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) stepped up its war on "Big Tobacco" on Tuesday, calling for stiff regulation of electronic cigarettes as well as bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to minors.

In a long-awaited report that will be debated by member states at a meeting in October in Moscow, the United Nations health agency also voiced concern at the concentration of the $3 billion market in the hands of transnational tobacco companies.
The WHO launched a public health campaign against tobacco a decade ago, clinching the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Since entering into force in 2005, it has been ratified by 179 states but the United States has not joined it.
It's no big surprise that the United States has refused to help control tobacco in other parts of the world. The Obama administration and those before it have been such a friend to Big Tobacco that there is even a clause in the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership  that would supersede any anti-smoking legislation now in place in partner countries. The tobacco industry would be allowed to hook millions of children in Indonesia and other impoverished countries on their poisonous product.

Malaysia, for example, already has an epidemic of pediatric smokers on its hands. And, with an estimated 60% of the adult population already addicted to tobacco, the problem will only get worse. From Politico: 
When Malaysia’s trade negotiators have pushed a carve-out for tobacco in a section of the deal that would otherwise allow businesses to challenge whether a country’s laws and regulations meet its international trade obligations before an independent panel, the United States has balked and instead called for an approach that Malaysian officials think would leave their country exposed.
 “The U.S. government’s proposal on tobacco does not go far enough. It is insufficient to protect the government’s sovereignty to do their utmost to protect public health,” said Mary Assunta, a senior policy adviser for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. “Tobacco companies should not interfere with this, nor challenge governments using the free-trade platform.”
Even after Obama visited Malaysia this spring and saw the smoking epidemic for himself, the clause favoring the unrestricted predation of the tobacco industry reportedly remains in the proposed treaty. One famous Indonesian toddler was able to kick his two pack a day habit, but there are plenty more potential addicts where he came from.

And why not? The White House has even adamantly refused to protect the migrant children who, cynically exempt from our own domestic child labor laws, slave away in the killing fields of Big Tobacco and thus are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning through their constant handling of the toxic leaves. If a scathing Human Rights Watch report against that child abuse didn't sway Obama, then why should WHO change his mind on vaping? Not even lobbying by Michael Bloomberg, one of the world's richest plutocrats, has been able to stop the stampede of this powerful industry of death.

Children Laboring in Tobacco Field

It really shouldn't shock anyone that preventing even precious American children from ordering bubblegum and chocolate-flavored nicotine poison on the Internet or being forced to watch the ads on TV is not on Obama's to-do list.  It was his former budget director, Sylvia Mathews-Burwell, who relaxed the FDA's proposed e-cigarette rules to protect minors right before she was confirmed as this country's ironically-named Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The WHO reports that even second-hand "vapor" from e-cigarettes may pose a significant health risk, especially to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. So, it'll be interesting to see if the conservative right-to-lifers in Congress will Just Say No to their tobacco lobbyist pals clamoring for continuing deregulation. Even the sexy e-cig ads sound right-wing, agitating as they do for "freedom." In any event, the propagandists of poison sure have been keeping very busy, photo-shopping the Ayn Rand brand to market to a whole new generation of hip libertarians:

Although the number of teens experimenting with the candy-flavored e-cigarettes has doubled since 2008, the White House has said it wanted more detailed grisly evidence of harmful effects before it "revisits" imposing more stringent control. As in war, there are apparently acceptable levels of collateral damage (injury and death) before an artificial neoliberal red line is crossed. A finite number of emergency room and morgue visits may occur before profits are curtailed.

Here are just some of the dangers:

The vapors in electronic cigarettes contain nano-particles which trigger inflammation, potentially leading to asthma, heart disease and stroke. The vapors may render antibiotics less effective against pulmonary bacterial infections. The solvents in the sweetly-flavored concoctions contain known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde. The adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine, which immediately raises the heart rate and blood pressure. Symptoms of withdrawal from "vaping" are the same is from quitting cigarettes: depression and crankiness.

But of course, Big Tobacco has no shortage of "scientists" willing to obfuscate the issue through the construction of straw men. According to Reuters, one group of experts actually opposes an anti-vaping campaign because it might take attention and money away from other anti-smoking efforts. Banning e-cigarette advertising will bring the cancerous Marlboro Man back to life on every billboard in America if we don't let the kids vape at will and resurrect nicotine advertising as a force for good after a 43-year ban! 

Another marketing ploy is to pimp out e-cigarettes as Nicorette gum-like "stop-smoking aids" which are actually beneficial to your health. 

As one Internet sales site brags, they don't stink, they're relatively cheap, they won't set the house on fire if you fall asleep while sucking in bed, the list of health risks is not yet nearly as extensive as decades and decades of studies of the effects of actually lighting up have  shown, and best of all: they are cool. Your friends will not shun you, even if you suck.

As usual, follow the money. Wells Fargo estimates that profits from e-cigarettes will exceed those of regular smokes by the year 2020. World-wide sales reached $3 billion last year. 

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me. -- Ayn Rand, libertarian goddess, smoker, and lung cancer fatality.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Holy Balloon Bursts

I wanted to believe.

I hoped that Pope Francis was the real deal, that he was the true enemy of predatory capitalism, the true champion of poor people. But it seems that he's just another protector of predators.

From Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times comes this shocker graphically detailing the unspeakable crimes of one of the pope's own high-ranking personal envoys:
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — He was a familiar figure to the skinny shoeshine boys who work along the oceanfront promenade here. Wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his balding head, they say, he would stroll along in the late afternoon and bring one of them down to the rocky shoreline or to a deserted monument for a local Catholic hero.
The boys say he gave them money to perform sexual acts. They called him “the Italian” because he spoke Spanish with an Italian accent.
It was only after he was spirited out of the country, the boys say, his picture splashed all over the local news media, that they learned his real identity: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
“He definitely seduced me with money,” said Francis Aquino Aneury, who says he was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasingly larger sums for sexual acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money.”
So much for the new pope's new "zero tolerance" child abuse policy. Maybe we misunderstood. Maybe it only applies to run of the mill parish priests and not to important diplomats wearing golden mitres. For, instead of leaving the privileged predator at the scene of his own crimes to be dealt with by the local justice system, the plutocratic pedophile was safely spirited out of one of the poorest places on earth to the safe haven of the Holy See. Wesolowski has actually been spotted wandering around the neighborhood, defrocked of his priestly garb yet still free to prey (and pray.)
The Vatican says that because Mr. Wesolowski was a member of its diplomatic corps and a citizen of the Holy See, the case would be handled in Rome. But even many faithful Catholics in this nation, home to the oldest Catholic cathedral in the Americas, say they are unsettled that a Vatican official could have been using children for sex, yet was not arrested and tried in their own country.
“From the pure standpoint of justice, he should be tried in the country where the acts took place because the conditions for trying him will not be the same elsewhere,” said Antonio Medina Calcaño, dean of the faculty of law and political science of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. “But all we can do is hope that the courts in the Vatican will treat this with the severity that it really deserves.”
Goodstein's article goes on to recount, in gruesome detail, just what Wesolowski allegedly did to the impoverished children of the Dominican Republic. In the worst case, the papal nuncio actually seduced one of his young victims with the promise of anti-seizure medication for his untreated epilepsy -- but only if the child did what he was told.

 When a Santo Domingo TV station was tipped off about him, the Vatican bigwig simply enlisted another priest to act as his procurer. That priest has since been thrown in jail, apparently ranking too low to be "spirited" out of the country.

Meanwhile, although there are "indications from Rome" that the pope is concerned about the case, he has apparently not seen fit to strip Wesolowski of his diplomatic immunity and thus allow his extradition back to either the Dominican Republic or to his native Poland, where he is also wanted for questioning.

When the nuncio was recalled last fall, the Vatican at first even denied that the move had anything to do with child abuse allegations. He was officially convicted in June. The Vatican also refused to divulge how he answered the charges against him or if he will suffer any penalty besides being stripped of his finery:

UNICEF reports that half of all Dominican children live in poverty, thus making the island (Hispaniola) shared with Haiti a magnet for predators -- be they child molesters, drug cartels, or multinational corporations. In a place where the economy and business are booming while children are starving and going without food and medicine, your average slimeball can rest assured that it's a go-to paradise for all manner of mayhem. It's a country where income disparity is extreme and where there has been a long sordid history of government corruption. But even a banana republic's criminal justice system seems to take child sex abuse more seriously than the Vatican.

Suffer the little children, indeed.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Ripening of a Sewer Socialist

I guess it could have been worse. Bernie Sanders could have totally lost it and hurled an imported Ferguson hand grenade at his Town Hall protesters last weekend instead of just hurling some pretty harsh invective at them. I guess it's easy to tell hecklers to shut up when you also have an armed Vermont state trooper firmly planted between them and you.

You can watch the clip here.

The protesters, from Occupy and the Code Pink anti-war group, were upset that their senator, along with every single one of his 99 compatriots, had voted to send more financial aid to Israel to support its war against Gaza, where nearly 2,000 people have been killed so far this summer. The shit really hit the fan when Sanders parroted the standard line: that missiles fired from the most densely populated open air prison on the planet come from densely populated areas and therefore Israel is justified in killing populations. He even hinted that ISIS is infiltrating Gaza. Now, that is a claim that even the neo-cons aren't making. Yet.

Sanders is a self-identified socialist who ran as an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and who fancies himself the great progressive alternative to a President Hillary Clinton.  The dead giveaway that his pseudo-campaign is just flimsy window dressing designed to make Clinton's coronation seem like a hard-fought democratic battle is the smarmy way he talks about his alleged nemesis: "I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton and she has accomplished a lot of very positive things in her career. But I’m not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people."

Wow. If that's the way to get all fired up and ready to go, Sanders might as well throw in the towel right now.  His wishy-washiness makes even the consensual Barack Obama look like a roaring liberal lion. Bernie isn't quite sure that anointing presidents is kosher. He'll have to ponder that one.

It's the same way he's always qualified his criticism of Obama -- from the president's proposed cutting of Social Security benefits to his coddling of Wall Street: "I support the president, but...." or "Obama has been a disappointment, but he can still save his presidency."

Heaven forfend that the lone resident erstwhile "sewer socialist" of the Senate actually condemn a sitting corporate president.

And last weekend's Town Hall was by no means the first time that Sanders let his socialist mask slip and let his war-mongering propensities shine through. When Bill Clinton was bombing Kosovo in 1999 and anti-war protesters showed up at his Burlington office to stage a sit-in, Sanders instructed his staff to call police to have them removed.

 When the World Trade Center was bombed on 9/11, then-Rep. Sanders initially voted against the Patriot Act, but later approved funding for it.  And although he initially voted against the Iraq War, he approved all later appropriations bills funding it And although he initially voted against creation of the Department of Homeland Security, he approved all later funding to keep it growing, and growing, and growing.

Sensing a pattern? Bernie Sanders is the useful idiot who pretends to take various bold stands in order to impart the illusion that we still live in a functioning democracy. When it comes to the war and surveillance states, anyway, he has more in common with Barack Obama than he does with Eugene Debs. Ron Jacobs of CounterPunch thinks Sanders's  record is a mixed one, his bellicosity tempered by his work for veterans, his approach necessarily pragmatic to ensure that regular people can survive in a cutthroat neoliberal world. Without the grotesquely expensive F-35 being headquartered in tiny Vermont, for example, how could Vermont even consider single payer health care and other progressive programs?

Also writing in CounterPunch is self-described Vermont radical Jay Moore, who is unsparing in his criticism of "Bombing Bernie":
Bernie was still an “avowed socialist” when he started out his electoral career in the early 1980s. He proudly displayed a portrait of Eugene Debs over his desk in his Burlington mayoral office. But today Bernie never even uses the term, “working class,” much less talks about what socialism means. That’s been totally dropped from his vocabulary as he seeks higher and higher offices. His populist rhetoric, often at time indistinguishable from right-wingers who advocate “America First,” is now all about saving the threatened American middle class. Lost is any sense that maybe the middle class got to where it was not only by virtue of the hard work he extolls but also by living in an imperialist country that benefits off the exploitation of workers and others in the Third World. There is no sense that maybe that American middle class standard of living is indefensible if we are going to move to a more sustainable way of living on the Earth sharing its resources in a more equitable manner. Genuine socialists, like Eugene Debs, are revolutionary internationalists. Rock bottom as a matter of principle is building solidarity for the working class and oppressed people all over the world.
Meanwhile, conservatives are ecstatic that Sanders is defending Israel's bombing campaign against what they variously describe as the Hamas supporters, racists and anti-Semites showing up at his town halls. Mediaite, for example, approvingly opines that Sanders is more moderate than many of the people he actually represents. RealClearPolitics just cut to the chase and characterized anti-war activists as "anti-Israel." 

One of Sanders's aides, pointing to his recent bipartisan compromise on Veterans Administration reform with Neocon John McCain, allows that Bernie "may have mellowed a bit as he's gotten older."

Except, I guess, when he's going all Archie Bunker on his own constituents and telling them to go stifle themselves.

"Shut up," he explained

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Propaganda of Identity Politics

Right after giving yet another wet sloppy kiss of understanding to the  Wall Street crooks who've destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, Attorney General Eric Holder paid a quick visit Wednesday to one of the countless economic wastelands directly spawned by the malfeasance of the same financial predator class.

Holder aimed to comfort the oppressed while pretending he was not the oppressors' top enabler.

 Without admitting wrongdoing, Holder glibly acknowledged to the good folks of Ferguson, MO, that he, too, is black, and yes, that racial profiling has happened even to him. He hugged the black relatives of the latest black victim of the punishing state. He hugged the "good cop" black state police captain. He promised a full federal investigation, and formally decreed that the healing process may now begin. Justice shall prevail in Ferguson, most likely the same way it prevailed in Florida after the Trayvon Martin killing. Everybody calm the hell down.

And then, just as quickly as he'd breezed into town in a truly awesome ostentatious motorcade symbolizing the postmodern late capitalist meaning of Black Power, Holder breezed right back out again. Presumably, he will return to the ocean-breezy Martha's Vineyard vacation briefly interrupted earlier in the week for the serious staged optics of this White House photo-op:

Still Life With Fruit: Official White House Propaganda Body Language Photo

This picture was prominently featured on the homepage of the New York Times, which in its latest attempt at stenographic whitewashing, obligingly made the Ferguson police riots all about the blackness of two of the most powerful men in America. The article itself was implicitly racist, given that the original subhead (since removed) gushed that when it comes to the ideology of race relations, you really can't tell the difference between Obama and Holder. You just cannot tell them apart. The Times made the amazing discovery that elite black people can have different personalities but still agree on shit!

  Much less prominently featured by the Times yesterday was a scathing indictment of Holder by Wall Streeter-turned-columnist William D. Cohan, who blasted the many Holder sweetheart deals with the financial mob. The latest deal has Bank of America agreeing to pay a multibillion-dollar settlement to the government for the mortgage fraud which, ironically enough, has disproportionately victimized minority families, rendering them increasingly more destitute under the Obama administration. That includes the families in riot-torn Ferguson, where the "official" black poverty level is nearly 25%. 

In reviewing Holder's penultimate settlement, with Citigroup, Cohan couched the corruption of the Obama administration in Shakespearean terms, calling Holder's no-jail time settlements with fraudulent tycoons "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Once again last month, we were treated to the sorry spectacle of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. holding a news conference to proclaim that a “too big to fail” bank had been brought to justice for its reprehensible behavior in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. All things considered, it was fine theater with the obvious caveat that nothing even remotely close to justice had been served.
This time, Mr. Holder was taking a victory lap for strong-arming Citigroup into paying $7 billion — including a $4 billion cash penalty, the largest such single payment ever — to settle all civil claims against it for its role in packaging troubled mortgages into securities and selling them as investments in the years before the crisis, even though a bunch of Citigroup bankers knew better and did it anyway.
That Mr. Holder prefers large settlements to prosecutions is no surprise to anyone familiar with the so-called Holder Doctrine, which stems from his now-famous June 1999 memorandum — when he was deputy attorney general — that included the thought that big financial settlements may be preferable to criminal convictions because a criminal conviction often carries severe unintended consequences, like loss of jobs and the inability to continue as a going concern. (See Andersen, Arthur, for instance.)
That Mr. Holder, as attorney general, is following through on an idea that he proposed as a subordinate 15 years ago does not make his behavior any less infuriating. The fact is that by settling with the big Wall Street banks for billions of dollars — money that comes out of their shareholders’ pockets — Mr. Holder is allowing them to avoid the sunshine that Louis Brandeis wrote 100 years ago was the best disinfectant. Instead of shining the bright light on wrongdoing that took place at the Wall Street banks, Mr. Holder’s settlements allow them to cover it up permanently.
Mind you that Cohan's devastating op-ed, which should have been featured prominently on Wednesday's front page, was relegated to the less popular DealBook section, which caters mainly to Wall Street wonks and gets less clicks from the general readership.

 Here, courtesy of usual sycophantic suspect Peter Baker and assisted by Matt Apuzzo, is part of the "Tale of Two Elite Black Princes" that wound up on the front page instead:
Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.
 Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.
(First as Cohan tragedy, then as Baker farce.)
This is a community aflame with a passion to know the truth, and Obama is treating it dispassionately and with distance,” he (prominent elite black dude Michael Eric Dyson)  said. “There is no blood flowing through the veins with empathy.”
On the other hand, Mr. Dyson said: “Eric feels it in his gut. It rises to his brain. It’s expressed on his tongue.” Mr. Holder, he added, is “an up and down race man who understands the moral consequences of the law on the lives of black people.”
This statement makes Holder's coddling of Wall Street crooks all the more cynical and damning if he actually claims to understand the moral consequences of his personal collusion with them and the effect of that collusion on the lives of black people. They lost their homes. They lost their jobs. Their hours were cut, their wages stagnated. The Ferguson community is aflame with passion, all right, but knowing the truth about a shooting is only part of it. That people are really aflame with a passion for social and economic justice, is apparently not deemed worthy either of front page news or of Holder's concern-trolling.

The Times puff-piece, which obligingly helps the White House set up the drama of the two elite black dudes, then pivots to the White House pretending to vociferously deny that any such drama exists.  It's the tried and true propaganda tactic of creating a straw man (or two) and knocking it back down, thus diverting attention from the real culprit: neoliberal corruption and capitalism gone wild. To wit:
Such sentiments exasperate the White House, which denies any substantive distance between the two. Aides to Mr. Obama said he has been less visceral in his public remarks than his comments after the Trayvon Martin case because there is still an active investigation.
“People shouldn’t presume because the attorney general might be more outspoken on a subject that he’s not consulting with the president and that the president isn’t completely supportive of the steps he’s taking,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser and close friend to both.
Okay, so that was our clue that this whole propaganda puff piece is the brainchild of Obama sister-wife Valerie Jarrett, aka the "Night Stalker," who has also interrupted her own Martha's Vineyard vacation to work the phones as "outreach" to various media personalities and "community leaders" to get the Ferguson race narrative spin back under control.
 After Mr. Obama won the presidency in 2008, he made Mr. Holder attorney general in part because of what Ms. Jarrett called “this shared vision” of overhauling the justice system. They have grown so close that they schedule Martha’s Vineyard vacations to coincide. Even closer are their wives, Michelle Obama and Dr. Sharon Malone.
Okay, so that was our clue that the "overhauling" (willful ignorance) of the justice system goes all the way to the highest levels and is an integral part of the Obama-Holder shared vision of fealty to the .01%. This shared vision is also manifest in Holder's "legal" opinions purporting to justify the drone murders of  Anwar al-Awlaki and other human beings. The overhauling includes the Obama administration's support, in a Supreme Court case brought by a black New Jersey man, of the police state's practice of conducting demeaning body cavity and strip-searches of people arrested for minor traffic offenses. 

The list of the shared vision atrocities goes on and on and on.
But to soften the blow, Jarrett and the Times have even rendered the Obama and Holder wives into complicit players in the cozy incestuous drama.

Meanwhile, there is at least one powerful black dude out there refusing to be sucked into the Official Obama Spin Machine. Kareem Abdul Jabar, a former basketball player who is obviously not included in Obama's tight circle of black jock/CEO  golfing buddies, actually "went there" and acknowledged that Ferguson is as much (or even more) about class and poverty as it is about race:
By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)
This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.And that’s how the status quo wants it.
It's not just about white vs. black, citizens vs. cops, right vs. left.

It's mainly about the Class War. It's about the obscenely rich vs. the rest of us. Who but the obscenely rich could have facilitated the multibillion-dollar militarization of local police departments in the first place? Who but the obscenely rich profit from closing poor neighborhood schools to make room for charters? Who but the obscenely rich ensure that the private prisons in the incarceration capital of the world remain full to bursting with black and brown people?

It's only through the slick propaganda of identity politics that the Powers That Be can maintain their strength, elevating corporate shills like Obama and Holder into victim-hero status and making us forget and gloss over their own myriad misdeeds and betrayals. We can sanctimoniously defend them against the rabid right, and tell poor minorities to emulate them as we revel in the vicarious pleasure of their elevation. Obama and Holder overcame, and yet they haven't, quite  And thus the liberal class, needing the comfort of the lesser evil, bases its affection for this un-dynamic duo more upon the color of their skin rather than upon the content of their character.

It's a perversion of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.

It's a cynical ploy. And given that most people, very sanely, no longer believe in the American Dream and rightly predict that their children will be worse off than they are, the politics of identity are just about all the elites have got left in their bag of cruel tricks to keep the people divided and conquered.

It's a testament to the effectiveness of slick propaganda that, compared to other civilized nations suffering the effects of global austerity inflicted by the ruling class, most Americans still cling to the belief that not only is there still a large middle class, but that they are actually still members of it.

The majority of Americans self-identifying as poor and forming a trans-racial solidarity movement of the oppressed would be a very dangerous thing indeed.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fun City

Michael Brown ultimately died because he was jaywalking in the middle of the street, and a police officer told him to move, and then things got murky in the little minds of officials vainly trying to cover up the ensuing facts and thus directly causing even more trouble.

It's weird.  Because before the whole place went ka-boom, Ferguson, Missouri was designated a "Playful City USA" winner by the KaBOOM! corporate non-profit charity. They won because rather than spend a lot of money for fancy community recreation, the town fathers had cleverly banned Sunday afternoon traffic on selected streets, allowing Ferguson's poor people to get up off their couches of dependency and go out to frolic amongst the potholes. For this cynical effort, the town was rewarded with an unspecified grant funded by such conservative corporations as Home Depot, Disney, Doctor Pepper and giant health insurance predator, Humana. 

Go play in the streets, kids, but only on corporate-designated days. Talk about sending mixed messages to the residents of Anytown, Dystopian States of Amurka! Do you suspect that Ferguson's KaBOOM! grant might have been used to fund police overtime for traffic control on the play-streets, given that no actual play equipment seems to have been purchased?

(I tried to find out more by going on the official Ferguson website, but it appears to have either crashed, or been hacked.)

And meanwhile, how apt is it that the multinational producer of the popular InSinkErator garbage disposal is also headquartered right there in 22% poverty level Ferguson, Missouri?

The people of Ferguson, Missouri were getting damned tired of it long before the shooting of Michael Brown. His death was simply the last straw in a long series of straws. People finally had just about enough of being treated like trash, mere leftovers to be shoved down the societal drain and mashed into pulp when they weren't being told that the streets were all the playground they were ever going to get.

Now, of course, they're being tear-gassed right back off the streets. They have nowhere to go. It's like they're living in an open-air prison, a little Gaza-on-the-Mississippi. The optics are certainly eerily similar.

So, after nine days of "unrest," will the Powers That Be rescind Ferguson's Playful City designation, now that the National Guard has arrived to declare that the fun is over? 

As if to make their point, the police have designated the local low-wage Target store as Command Control Central, the better to target all those citizens, newly designated as the willfully unemployed "those people," anarchists, outside agitators and terrorists. Did I mention that Target is also a corporate sponsor of KaBOOM?

When they're not human fodder for InSinkErators, people can't even use the sinks in Ferguson to wash the police mace out of their eyes. From a CNN clip, which aired last week, of Don Lemon interviewing an unidentified woman who'd reported a previous run-in with the alleged shooter of Michael Brown:

Woman: I was maced and I had come up to QuickTrip because they said I could use their sink. So I was trying to clean out my eyes with some water and one of the employees told me to go get some milk, because that would help. So as I was pouring milk in my eyes, the officers had come in and told me to get out.

Lemon: When was this?

Woman: This was like a month ago. I came outside and I was trying to pour milk in my eyes and Wilson told me if I poured milk in my eyes, I was going to be arrested. And I was trying to tell him that my eyes were burning because I was maced, but he told me to 'Shut the F up.' So, another man told me to get in my car and turn the air and put my face in front of the vents, so that's what I did.

Lemon: So were you arrested? What happened?

 Woman: No, I wasn't arrested. When I got in my car and turned the air on and put my face in front of the vent. Wilson made me get out of the car and sit on the concrete and he took all my information and ran my name. And I was still trying to pour the milk in my eyes because I couldn't see, and he's telling me to 'shut the F up' and 'sit the f down' and I was looking at his name tag and I was telling myself that I would never forget who he was and what he did to me. And I prayed on it and I asked God to get revenge on him and I'm sorry this is the way it happened, but what's done in the dark always come to the light, and I saw the news this morning—

Lemon: But you're OK? Everything is OK?

Woman: I'm OK now. And I saw the news this morning when they released his name. I knew I knew exactly who he was and I know who he is right now.

Meanwhile, in a belated attempt to quell the unrest even better, Obama has evolved from heartbreak to concern to forensic pathologist-in-chief, a kind of President Quincy, MD. He is sending his henchman Eric Holder to oversee a third autopsy, and who knows, maybe even give a pep talk to a Homeland Security Fusion Center while he's at it.

Too bad the post-mortem is on just one body instead of on the entire body politic.

The politicians of America would prefer that the truth of democracy's demise, along with the leftovers of disposable humanity, just go down the giant InSinkErator into oblivion while the plutocrats gorge themselves at their endless feast.