Friday, October 31, 2014

Have a Very Classy Halloween

Not counting the zombie invasion of roaming Ebolaphobes, what are you most frightened about this Halloween?

If you're a One Percenter, chances are that the lower classes coming into your neighborhood to beg for goodies is high on your list of fears. One wealthy woman allegedly (or maybe actually -- because although this reads like satire, the super-rich are extremely talented at unwitting self-parody) sought advice about how to keep the riffraff away. From Slate:

Dear Prudence,
I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?
—Halloween for the 99 Percent
Needless to say, "Prudence" told Rich Bitch to stuff her Snickers up her Ayn Rand knickers.

Meanwhile, we learn from the New York Times Motherlode blog that there are subtler ways for the rich to control the seasonal beggars daring to set foot in their neighborhoods. Simply judge the Trick or Treaters by their classiness and couture,  and hand out the goodies accordingly:
Turned off by the people who came to their door last year, many of them adults or kids in street clothes, and few who said “trick or treat,” he (the author's Halloween decoration fanatic neighbor) decided to try something new: candy tiers. This year, they’ll reward those who play by Halloween’s basic rules — wear a costume, say “trick or treat” and be more or less a kid — by giving them pretty good candy. Those with amazing costumes will get better sweets. Those who don’t dress up at all or are of voting age or older will get a consolation prize: Dum Dums, which our neighbor considers the dregs of the candy pile.
So a taciturn kid dressed as a hobo will choke on the cheap lollipops, huh? On the other hand, anyone named Biff wearing a Mitt Romney mask will be rewarded with adult-size PayDay bars. Too bad the Times blogger didn't reveal the location of her neighborhood. It is a prime target for decorative off-brand toilet paper. 

(Incidentally, I always liked DumDums, especially the red and purple ones. Those disgustingly chewy caramel-peanut PayDays were the first to hit the garbage can.)

Meanwhile.... just not in time for Halloween: bringing a whole new meaning to the term Hot Zone:

Click image to enlarge

Item Details

As the deadly Ebola virus trickles its way through the United States, fighting its disease is no reason to compromise style. The short dress and chic gas mask will be the talk of Milan, London, Paris, and New York as the world's fashionistas seek global solutions to hazmat couture. Ending plague isn't the endeavor of a single woman, so be sure to check out our men's Ebola Containment Costume for a great couple's costume idea.


  • Ebola White Costume Dress
  • Ebola Face Shield
  • Breathing Mask
  • Safety Eye Goggles
  • Blue Latex Gloves
  • Boots not included

Available Options


In Stock Ready for immediate shipment.
Item: CA-020635

These items are often bought together...

Get all 3 for $189.97 Choose from the options below
Sexy Ebola Containment Suit+ Women's Yellow Lace-Up Zipper Go Go Boots+ Ebola Containment Suit Costume

Thursday, October 30, 2014

That Hideous Strength

Maybe you haven't heard the news. Not only does The Homeland now have its very own Ebola Czar, it has spawned yet another shadowy government agency. It's called N.I.C.E. -- the National Institute for the Co-Optation of Ebola.

In C.S. Lewis's dystopian novel That Hideous Strength, N.I.C.E, stood for the National Institute for Controlled Experiments -- a shadowy government agency designed to exploit and destroy everything it touches through the copious use of propaganda. Torture and prison are in store for the few malcontents refusing to get with the program. The novel, the finale of Lewis's Space Trilogy, derives its title from a 16th century poem about the Tower of Babel myth, in which a massive structure built by the oppressed masses for the glory of the elite few resulted in death, destruction, and lots of people talking past each other.  

In dystopian 21st century America, a lethal little microbe that has killed a lot of people in Africa and sickened a few people here has been magically transformed into a political wedge issue, a campaign talking point that serves more to demonize the other side than to frighten the ruling establishment into implementing sanitary living conditions and true universal health care for all people, all over the world.

It turns out that not only can Ebola be grown in culture, it has quickly become an integral part of the American culture wars.  Health care workers have become the latest pawns in the identity politics game played by the two sides of the corporate duopoly. Ask not if we can study and treat this disease. Ask which "side" can best co-opt Ebola, and then pick your team. Are you with the Republicans, who cast nurses as demons to be cast out of society or burned at the stake along with their illegal immigrating germs? Or are you with the Democrats, who cast health care workers as exemplars of American military might and superiority?

Are you with Chris Christie, vicariously insulting your peers who dare stand up to the hideous strength of the boorish ruling class? Or are you with Barack Obama, who pays lip service to Doctors Without Borders even as his hideous and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership would put life-saving medicines out of the economic reach of poor countries fighting Ebola and a whole host of other treatable diseases?

Chris Christie: (nasty, brutish and short to accommodate hate-infested A.D.D. sufferers) "Sit down and shut up."

Barack Obama: (droning on and on in jingoism to accommodate the fiscal needs of the Military-Industrial Complex he so ably serves): "I said this at the U.N. General Assembly -- when disease or disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the world calls us.  And the reason they call us is because of the men and women like the ones who are here today.  They respond with skill and professionalism and courage and dedication.  And it’s because of the determination and skill and dedication and patriotism of folks like this that I’m confident we will contain and ultimately snuff out this outbreak of Ebola -- because that’s what we do. A lot of people talk about American exceptionalism.  I’m a firm believer in American exceptionalism.  You know why I am?  It’s because of folks like this..... What we are -- what we need right now is these shock troops who are out there leading globally.  We can’t discourage that; we’ve got to encourage it and applaud it."

(Did you ever hear Florence Nightingale described as a bellicose shock troop before?  Moreover, tiny socialist Cuba is leading the fight against Ebola. It's not as concerned with border security, partisan politics.... or profit-driven health care.)

Dr. Kent Brantly, the physician successfully treated for Ebola, again was co-opted by Obama as a photo-op prop on Wednesday. After the president displayed his utter sincerity by referring to Brantly as "Keith," the good doctor delivered a gentle but pointed retort to the jingoism:

"At this time, perhaps more than any other, we feel the impact of our position as citizens of not only the United States of America, but as citizens of the world. We must strive together for the good of all mankind to put an end to this disease.”

Of course, Obama never once applauded or even mentioned Kaci Hickox, the nurse whose civil disobedience does not jibe with either Obama's political needs or the fiscal needs of the Military-Industrial Complex. The war budget is now so bloated that it actually boosted the GDP several percentage points this quarter. Obama himself cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control.

So pick your poison. Better yet, refuse to drink. Or better yet, go for a bike ride as you try to ignore your police escort.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wait a Minute Mr. Postman

 So the New York Times has the big scoop that the U.S. Postal Service manually monitors our mail as well as computer-scanning every piece of it for Homeland Security posterity. What a shock. Half my mail seems to arrive mysteriously unsealed these days. Either the senders ran out of spit, or the gremlins have been at work again. Just yesterday, a thank-you letter from Doctors Without Borders arrived already ripped open. (I don't know if it had gotten mangled en route through Chris Christie's Port Authority, or was simply delayed in a postal containment tent set up for monitoring Ebola charities -- but I'll try to find out for you.)

According to the Times, the Postal Service admits having honored more than 50,000 mail-monitoring requests from various police agencies, There has been little oversight and accountability on the spying campaign, nor has its efficiency or lack thereof ever been measured.
The surveillance program, officially called mail covers, is more than a century old, but is still considered a powerful investigative tool. At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home.
Law enforcement officials say this deceptively old-fashioned method of collecting data provides a wealth of information about the businesses and associates of their targets, and can lead to bank and property records and even accomplices. (Opening the mail requires a warrant.)
Who are they kidding? Warrants are so yesterday, as old-fashioned as the century-old surveillance program itself.

 But anyway -- I have long suspected/known that the post office had gone over to the Dark Side... or at the very least, harbored Dark Side aspirations.

It all started with a strange phone call I received one dark December night in 2010. When the caller identified himself as the chief assistant counsel for the Postal Regulatory Commission, my heart skipped a beat. Had I neglected to put extra stamps on that thick letter I'd just sent out?  Had they finally tracked down the culprit who'd put the chewing gum wrappers and pennies and other detritus into the prepaid credit application envelope from the annoying Capitol One scammers?

I Should Be So Lucky

  No, it was actually far more horrifyingly banal than that. My caller (who only rang the once) said he knew of me through my New York Times reader comments, and was just alerting me to an op-ed he'd written for the paper in hopes I'd give it a thumbs-up review. His nifty idea was to make the financially-strapped Postal Service more viable by having mail trucks double as spies for other government agencies. (cue the James Bond music.)

I obviously assumed it was a prank call.  But after hanging up, I checked the Times Sunday review page. And there it was:  The Postman Always Pings Twice (cue the Nightmare On Elm Street music) --
The service’s thousands of delivery vehicles have only one purpose now: to transport mail. But what if they were fitted with sensors to collect and transmit information about weather or air pollutants? The trucks would go from being bulky tools of industrial-age communication to being on the cutting edge of 21st-century information-gathering and forecasting.
After all, the delivery fleet already goes to almost every home and business in America nearly every day, and it travels fixed routes along a majority of the country’s roads to get there. Data collection wouldn’t require much additional staff or resources; all it would take would be a small, cheap and unobtrusive sensor package mounted on each truck. (This idea is mine alone, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Postal Regulatory Commission.)
Well, thank God for that. Also thank God there was no option for reader comments.  Then again, this guy had my number. I began to shiver as I read further:
True, other types of vehicles, like taxis or buses, could also carry sensors. But such vehicles typically don’t follow as many regular routes. Nor are they managed by a single organization that could readily coordinate nationwide or regional data collection.
There are a few obvious objections. For starters, there are privacy concerns regarding certain types of data. But a review panel could be set up to monitor the use of the network and ensure safeguards for handling the data.
Mind you, this was long before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the Panopticon State. Back in the good old innocent days of 2010, most people were blissfully unaware that their privacy had gone by the wayside decades ago. The worst thing that had happened was that the Bush administration was caught harassing librarians over what books we were subversively reading.  This was before the seemingly daily revelations of privacy abuses, greeted with a politician or a bureaucrat blithely insisting that such assaults on civil rights were not done "willingly", or if they were, they could be handled by "review panels." Soothing cross-agency checks and balances are there to ensure that any abuses can be safeguarded against public outcry. But my Mr. Postman already knew this years ago.
There’s also the question about marketplace competition from a federal agency monopoly, an issue that has led Congress to limit the types of non-postal services the agency is allowed to provide. But in this case, the service wouldn’t be competing; rather, it would be providing a platform that a business could never afford. If anything, by offering access to a wide range of data and thereby being a catalyst for business innovation, the service would be promoting competition, not hindering it.
Who is Mr. Postman kidding? There is no separation of government and corporations. Ed Snowden worked for private contractor Booz Allen, not the NSA. The Department of Homeland Security has an office high in the government-subsidized Goldman Sachs tower, and shared its intelligence on Occupy protesters directly with Wall Street. In an oligarchy, the moneyed interests always call the shots. Fool me once, ping me twice, the excuses are getting stale. The proles are beyond wise to the fact that we live in a crypto-fascist world.

Incidentally, the reason that I am not including the name of my postal ringer within this post is so that the next time he Googles his own name, my article won't instantly pop up in the search results, and the Postman will be less likely to ring/ping me twice. But if he does, I'll be sure to ask him about that New Jersey-Chris Christie connection to the tampering of my letter from Doctors Without Borders. 


Oh, and totally off-topic, but since other bloggers brag about their adorable pets, I thought I'd share this latest snap of my dog Snap in one of his good moods:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quarantine This

In the spirit of austerity, and with memories of the Sequester and shut-downs still fresh in their craven little minds, the ruling establishment has now decreed that human beings as well as the programs that help human beings must now be quarantined in the interests of Homeland Security.

Whether the possibly unconstitutional sequester of people against their will is humane (Democrats' house arrest) or inhumane (Republicans' unheated tents in late October) is a matter of fevered debate.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who never met a public employee or teacher he didn't hate, has actually imprisoned a nurse in a tent outside a hospital on grounds that her humanitarian spirit might possibly spread to others. (She has tested negative for Ebola.) In a just world, it would be the corrupt and corpulent Christie who'd be placed under perpetual quarantine.... in a super-max prison somewhere, with no possibility of parole, for crimes ranging from "BridgeGate" to his illegal halfway house scam to pay-to-play as a governing ideology.

(Update: the New York Times now reports that he will release Kaci Hickox, who lawyered up, from tent prison -- if the CDC approves. This way, he can cover his own ample ass should she later develop the disease, which is what he is probably really, really hoping happens. He is that much of a dick.)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hasn't been much better, boomeranging around the political spectrum all weekend from Far Right A (Christie) to Plain Right B (the Obama administration) in a frenzied quest to appear competent as he, too, has barely escaped prosecution for corruption.

Double Your Fun

Let's hope, meanwhile, that Ebola doesn't strike in Detroit, which on the banana republic scale  now ranks pretty close to Liberia, where the virus is out of control. Since thousands of Detroit residents have had the basic human right of water snatched away from them for lack of ability to pay, even such basic sanitation niceties as hand-washing and toilet-flushing have become luxuries out of their reach. It has gotten so bad that the United Nations visited the Motor City to condemn the fact that the gulf between rich and poor in the United States has widened to alarming and inhumane and dangerous proportions.

It's actually pretty amazing that President Obama will have the chutzpah to visit Detroit next week to "stump" for the same Democrats who have remained stonily silent on the plutocratic pillaging and ethnic cleansing of that once-great city. But I wouldn't be surprised if he manages to fit in another photo-op with the latest celebrity Ebola recoveree first, to hand out the sterile air kisses as a prelude to the next blast of hot air. Projectile political speech, as we should know by now, is as hazardous to our health as any microbe.

Here's what Obama should do: grab his pen and sign an executive order providing for five-star hotel accomodations for all returning symptom-free Africa aid workers under quarantine order, and a promise of a life-long government job in the field of their choice, followed by awarding of the Medal of Freedom and a ticker-tape parade.


In his latest "blame the Republicans and give the Democrats a pass" column today, Paul Krugman bemoans lack of investment in public infrastructure and how "America has turned its back on its own history."

Umm... it's the plutocracy, stupid. A gridlocked government with two undemocratic parties running the joint is just a propaganda ploy to get us to pick a team and pretend we're all participants in a battle royale between the forces of good and evil. Maybe after the midterms, Krugman will turn his attention to actual issues affecting ordinary people. But I am not holding my breath. Anyway, here's my published comment:

 Americans haven't turned their backs on history. The plutocrats have turned their backs on America.

For the government to invest in infrastructure, there first has to be a commitment to the commons. And the super-rich hate to make commitments outside of their own class.

In the global economy, there is no such thing as patriotism. Multinationals locate their headquarters and trillions in excess cash to international tax havens Or, if they're feeling especially benevolent, to the states that will pave their private parking lots for free and spend public money to train the low-wage labor corps of the future. (The promised jobs are never for right now.)

Public works projects require well-paid, unionized jobs. Since one of the main objectives of the oligarchy is to destroy unions, squeeze labor, and thereby depress wages, even the ability to borrow at zero interest is not in their best interest and not in line with their goal of total global feudalism. What do the Koch and Walton dynasties care about potholes and crumbling schools? They've got their Lear jets, helicopters, private tutors and armed security forces.

They are corporate parasites who aren't satisfied with sucking the last meager drops of blood, wealth and toil from the public. They're even taking out life insurance policies on The Help, with themselves as sole beneficiaries.

As Downton's Dowager once observed, "Nothing exceeds like excess."

And the serfs are getting restless... and mad as hell.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grievous Errors

I hadn't planned on writing about the Media Matters outing of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat as a paid shill for an anti-LGBT hate group.  My outrage and disgust capacity had already just about reached the breaking point when I read about his unfortunate appearance before a group so despicable that it's on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of terrible, awful, and downright dangerous people.

But then, even after he got caught publicly gay-bashing and made a smirking "mistakes were made" pseudo-apology to a few blogs, Douthat now has the chutzpah to use his latest Times column to double down, albeit in a more nuanced fashion, on the homophobic rhetoric. He suggests that Pope Francis made a boo-boo by launching a pro-gay trial balloon at the Vatican this month. He's upset that all the money given to the church by wealthy Catholic plutocrats seeking and getting expiation for their mortal sins while dissing unwed mothers has been wasted. Look at all poor Henry VIII went through way back when the pope refused to grant him a divorce and he had to start his own church! The Catholic Church caving now might even de-sanctify Thomas More for all we know.

(OK, so Douthat didn't actually say those things in those exact words, but Times-brand hatred must always be presented as subtext-only for discerning readers with the patience to read between the sanctimonious lines. The class war against the poor under the protective cloak of  religion is the tried and true modus operandi of him and his brethren on the "Christian" right.)

 You'd think that after being exposed as something more vile than the nuanced and somewhat respected Times pundit he plays at being once a week, Douthat would at least have tried to temporarily change the conversation into something more palatable, like Ebola or the mid-terms. That he did not is a sure indication that he will be keeping his job, despite his moonlighting. He is the useful idiot, the click-bait that the Times keeps around to keep the liberal readers fuming and re-clicking and Tweeting and bringing in all that ad revenue.

Hate sells. This whole mid-term election is based on hate. We are going to the polls based on how much we despise the opposite side of the duopoly. Republicans will vote Nihilist purely because they hate Democrats. Democrats will vote We Suck Less only because they can't stand Republicans.

As much as I try to avoid commenting on Douthat and preaching to the liberal Times choir, I couldn't resist chiming in on his latest sermonette. Here, pending possible later removal by the censors, is my response:
Preserve us from the hypocrisy of paranoid pundits.
Douthat is one to talk about "preserving the pope from (the) error" of welcoming gays and remarried Catholics into the church, when he himself just committed the grievous error of speaking at a fundraiser for the Alliance of Defending Freedom. This is a rabid hate group which has actually called for the criminalization of homosexuality.
Media Matters has the scoop:
"On October 16, Douthat spoke at 'The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America,' an event held by ADF and aimed at drawing attention to a number of popular right-wing horror stories about the threat LGBT equality poses to religious liberty. Douthat spoke alongside radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Benham brothers, who are notorious for their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The event ended with explicit solicitations for donations to support ADF's legal work."
 As Media Matters notes, Douthat tried to preserve his reputation by announcing, when confronted, that he wouldn't be cashing his ADF check. He was apparently shocked, shocked to learn that there was a profit motive going on! But as we know, bigotry and freedumb don't come cheap. There is nothing charitable about right wing extremism.
Somebody needs to make a good act of contrition in an upcoming column. Resignation in disgrace would be nice too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Pits in the All-American Pie

President Obama bragged recently that by almost every economic measure, America has become better off under his watch. Obviously the weasel word here is "America." In Obama-speak, it is defined as the stock market, the plutocracy, and the media-industrial-war complex.

Actual living, breathing Americans are still in the pits, according to the most recent supplemental poverty report issued by the Census Bureau. Factoring in such expenses as medical debt, and such regional variables as transportation, housing, clothing, and child care costs, nearly half of us --150 million people -- can be considered  "near-poor" (incomes below twice the official poverty threshold). The official abject poverty rate is holding just about steady at 15.5%, or nearly 48 million Americans.

The poverty rate among older Americans is actually increasing, up by about four million people, largely as a result of medical expenses. And were it not for Social Security, more than half of all Americans over age 65 would be living in penury. In the population as a whole, according to the report, out-of-pocket medical expenses alone have sent an additional 10 million adults of all ages into a state of near-poverty.

In California, one in four residents is now deemed poverty-stricken under the supplemental measures listed by the Census Bureau. Ditto for New York City. Both locales also boast more than their share of billionaires, who have raked in an even greater share of global wealth in the past year. From The Guardian:
The richest 1% of the world’s population are getting wealthier, owning more than 48% of global wealth, according to a report published on Tuesday which warned growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.
According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.
“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.
Meanwhile, though, most Americans (besides desperately believing that there is not only still a middle class, but that they still reside in it)  have no clue about how extreme the wealth inequality really is. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business School, most people think that the average CEO makes a whopping 30 times the salary of the average worker, while believing that a fairer ratio would be more along the lines of 7:1.

The correct response is that, on average, the American CEO makes at least a staggering 300 times as much money as the employee. That would take the unacceptability factor into the outer limits of the stratosphere, to a level far above the comprehension of most of our brains.

And that, of course, is perfectly O.K. with the ruling elites.

Incidentally, the New York Times has today countered the Census Bureau's supplemental poverty report with a special supplemental section of its own. It is called, simply enough, Wealth. 

Far from being a self-celebration of extreme inequality, this supplement frames its articles around the theme of what a headache and hardship obscene wealth truly is for its sufferers.

If, for example, you are an executive stressed out from making 300 times as much as your serfs, you can relax. Get rid of any vestigial guilt you might be feeling at a euphemistically titled plutocratic "boot camp" where you can yoga away all your cares and woes. And if you're an older woman who is royally pissed off about all the attention your dog food-eating impoverished peers are getting, the Times has some special advice to help you cope with the angst of having all that money. There are other stories about heiresses on horseback, and how to supplement the stressful happiness that wealth brings by coddling your brain chemistry.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a Harvard study to prove that there is more than enough cluelessness to go around in this wildly tilting world of ours.

More Is Such a Chore

Monday, October 20, 2014

Learn To Grovel Gracefully

With wages flat and jobs scarce, what's a serf to do to get ahead while barely surviving? Where are all those ladders of opportunity that the politicians keep blathering about?

The bosses at Marriott Hotels have come up with a real nifty public relations gimmick to give the appearance of caring about their minimum wage employees while continuing to despise them with all the utter contempt at their disposal. It might be called the Neoliberal Two-Step. 

Step One: the Marriott suits are inveigling hotel customers to supplement the low wages of The Help through tasteful "tip envelopes" now being discreetly placed in all the rooms. They're partnering with Democratic celebrity multimillionaire and renowned poverty concern troll Maria Shriver, who is adding her liberal cachet to the "Envelope Please" murketing effort. She, unlike others of her class, has actually deigned on occasion to interact with the women cleaning her luxury suites:
“The Envelope Please was born from having conversations with women I’ve met who have taken care of my room during hotel stays. Their stories of hard work and perseverance inspired and informed me. They told me that room attendants, who are often the primary breadwinner for their families, are often forgotten when it comes to tipping, unlike other front-of-house employ­ees, since most travelers don't see them face-to-face. I hope this gratitude initiative will make these women feel seen and validated,” said Maria Shriver, founder of A Woman’s Nation.
Of course, Shriver would never dream of agitating for a living wage and benefits for these women, who suffer more than their share of back problems and other ailments through constant repetitive lifting and bending. And of course, the suggested tip is a mere $1 a day, with $5 being the absolute outer limit of gratitude if The Help has gone the extra distance.

 But wait! There is an even better solution to help The Help than tips, paid sick days off, and top-notch health care coverage:

Step Two: in order to make Maria Shriver feel even more self-satisfied by allowing women to be better seen and validated, a choreographer from the Joffrey Ballet is teaching The Marriott Help how to perform servile dance moves and postures -- the better to seduce their coddled clientele to keep coming back for more. And who knows, maybe even inspire them to be more generous tippers and thank-you note writers. If you're a housekeeper able to master the following stunts, Marriott guests might be more apt to put that extra buck in your envelope to supplement your meager paycheck:

We'll Bend Over Backward to Fulfill Your Every Whim....

Let Me Just Sweep Up Your Crumbs for My Breakfast....
Your Fresh Towels, Madame....

How Can I Die For You Today?
Unpaid No-Excuses Break Time: Pulling Ourselves Up By Our Ballet Straps

Of course, the New York Times is slanting this bizarre story as a positive for Marriott and for wealthy travelers everywhere, who apparently have been getting mighty sick and tired of clumsy, injury-prone chambermaids lumbering about like herds of heifers and hungry exhausted bellboys who have not yet learned the art of refined obsequiousness:
While pirouettes and grand jet├ęs may not get a porter to your room any faster, a little basic ballet training might improve their grace upon arrival. At least that’s what JW Marriott is hoping will come of a new employee training program it has developed in partnership with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. The hotel’s Poise and Grace Program is a series of video tutorials led by the Joffrey’s artistic director, Ashley Wheater. In them, Mr. Wheater demonstrates core movements and mind-sets practiced by professional dancers in order to achieve the seamless flow of a ballet sequence.
 The training focuses on four areas: warming up the body, proper breathing techniques, the flow of movement and a connection with the audience. In essence, to think and act as if they were on stage- or perhaps in a Wes Anderson film.
Or, you can make believe that you're the star of an especially dystopian remake of Cinderella. Disassociation from one's actual plantation-like surroundings works wonders for the psyche. If you embrace the mannerisms of a slave through proper breathing techniques and the like, then you seamlessly become the slave through no will of your own. Disgruntlement vanishes out the window as fast as the overworked ballerina heroine of The Red Shoes throwing herself off a balcony.

Poise & Grace Rejectee: No "Envelope Please" for You, Moira Shearer!

Friday, October 17, 2014

And the Lies Drone On

While President Obama ponders appointing appointed a Wall Street-connected political fixer Ebola Czar and considers imposing travel restrictions in a theatrical attempt to Keep Ebola Out, there will of course be no such travel restrictions on his bombs and drones. They will continue to fly with impunity, creating endless and widespread death, destruction and panic in places that the Ebolaphobes can't even identify on a map.

And since the majority of Americans don't care about drone casualties, the Obama administration can both fly with impunity and lie with impunity. So what if a plague of Predator missiles is causing the same kind of panic in middle Eastern countries that a virus is causing in west African countries? The only panic that counts is Homeland panic. Because, despite existing within a de facto oligarchy, Homelandians are still allowed to go to the polls every two or four years to cast votes for the least-evil apparatchiks, who vie within a closed system to keep the voters fearing and the missions creeping and the profits flowing to those wealthy few at the pinnacle of the real power.

So thank goodness for the indispensable UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has exposed another Big Lie and state-sponsored crime worthy of global condemnation at least and Hague prosecutions at most. Unfortunately, this journalistic blockbuster will be greeted with a huge "Meh" from people too busy working at crap jobs or fretting over the mid-terms and the Ebola cruise ship of death to care. But here it is anyway.... cross-posted in its entirety: 

Only 4% of drone victims in Pakistan identified as al Qaeda members

By Jack Serle

As the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan hits 400, research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified by available records as members of al Qaeda. This calls in to question US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has gathered the names and, where possible, the details of people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan since June 2004. On October 11 an attack brought the total number of drone strikes in Pakistan up to 400.

The names of the dead have been collected over a year of research in and outside Pakistan, using a multitude of sources. These include both Pakistani government records leaked to the Bureau, and hundreds of open source reports in English, Pashtun and Urdu.

Naming the Dead has also drawn on field investigations conducted by the Bureau’s researchers in Pakistan and other organisations, including Amnesty International, Reprieve and the Centre for Civilians in Conflict.

Only 704 of the 2,379 dead have been identified, and only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group. Few corroborating details were available for those who were just described as militants. More than a third of them were not designated a rank, and almost 30% are not even linked to a specific group. Only 84 are identified as members of al Qaeda – less than 4% of the total number of people killed.

These findings “demonstrate the continuing complete lack of transparency surrounding US drone operations,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher for Amnesty International.

Pakistan drone strike deaths in numbers
Total killed 2,379
Total identified as militants 295
Total identified as al Qaeda 84
Total named 704
When asked for a comment on the Bureau’s investigation, US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that strikes were only carried out when there was “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed.

“The death of innocent civilians is something that the U.S. Government seeks to avoid if at all possible. In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimise such risk to non-combatants in the future,” said Hayden.

“Associated forces”

The Obama administration’s stated legal justification for such strikes is based partly on the right to self-defence in response to an imminent threat. This has proved controversial as leaked documents show the US believes determining if a terrorist is an imminent threat “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

The legal basis for the strikes also stems from the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (Aumf) – a law signed by Congress three days after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. It gives the president the right to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those behind the attacks on the US, wherever they are.The text of Aumf does not name any particular group. But the president, in a major foreign policy speech in May 2013, said this includes “al Qaeda, the Taliban and its associated forces”.

Nek Mohammed speaks at a Jirga three weeks before he died in a CIA drone strike (Reuters/Kamran Wazir)
Nek Mohammed speaks at a Jirga three weeks before he died in a CIA drone strike (Reuters/Kamran Wazir)
It is not clear who is deemed to be “associated” with the Taliban. Hayden told the Bureau that “an associated force is an organised armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda and is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

The CIA itself does not seem to know the affiliation of everyone they kill. Secret CIA documents recording the identity, rank and affiliation of people targeted and killed in strikes between 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 were leaked to the McClatchy news agency in April 2013. They identified hundreds of those killed as simply Afghan or Pakistani fighters, or as “unknown”.

Determining the affiliation even of those deemed to be “Taliban” is problematic. The movement has two branches: one, the Afghan Taliban, is fighting US and allied forces, and trying to re-establish the ousted Taliban government of Mullah Omar in Kabul. The other, the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP, is mainly focused on toppling the Pakistani state, putting an end to democracy and establishing a theocracy based on extreme ideology. Although the US did not designate the TTP as a foreign terrorist organisation until September 2010, the group and its precursors are known to have worked with the Afghan Taliban.

According to media reports, the choice of targets has not always reflected the priorities of the US alone. In April last year the McClatchy news agency reported the US used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al Qaeda members.

Three days before the McClatchy report, the New York Times revealed the first known US drone strike in Pakistan, on June 17 2004, was part of a secret deal with Pakistan to gain access to its airspace. The CIA agreed to kill the target, Nek Mohammed, in exchange for permission for its drones to go after the US’s enemies.

The “butcher of Swat”

Senior militants have been killed in the CIA’s 10-year drone campaign in Pakistan. But as the Bureau’s work indicates, it is far from clear that they constitute the only or even the majority of people killed in these strikes.
“Judging by the sheer volume of strikes and the reliable estimates of total casualties, it is very unlikely that the majority of victims are senior commanders,” says Amnesty’s Qadri.

The Bureau has only found 111 of those killed in Pakistan since 2004 described as a senior commander of any armed group – just 5% of the total. Research by the New America Foundation estimated the proportion of senior commanders to be even lower, at just 2%.

Waliur Rehman talks to the Associated Press less than two years before his death (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud)
Waliur Rehman talks to the Associated Press less than two years before his death (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud)
Among them are men linked to serious crimes. Men such as Ibne Amin, known as the “butcher of Swat” for the barbaric treatment he and his men meted out on the residents of the Swat valley in 2008 and 2009.

Others include Abu Khabab al Masri, an al Qaeda chemical weapons expert. Drones also killed Hakimullah and Baitullah Mehsud, and Wali Ur Rehman – all senior leaders of the TTP.

There are 73 more people recorded in Naming the Dead who are described as mid-ranking members of armed groups. However someone’s rank is not necessarily a reliable guide to their importance in the organisation.

“I think it really depends on what they are,” Rez Jan, a senior Pakistan analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank told the Bureau. “You can be a mid-level guy who is involved in [improvised explosive device] production or training in bomb making or planting, or combat techniques and have a fairly lethal impact in that manner.”

Rashid Rauf, a British citizen killed in a November 2008 drone strike in Pakistan, is one al Qaeda member who appears to have had an impact despite not rising to the organisation’s highest echelons.
He acted as a point of contact between the perpetrators of the July 7 2005 attacks on the London Underground and their al Qaeda controllers. He also filled a similar role linking al Qaeda central with the men planning to bring down several airliners flying from London to the US in the 2006 “liquid bomb plot”.

The Bureau has only been able to establish information about the alleged roles of just 21 of those killed. Even this mostly consists of basic descriptions such as “logistician” or “the equivalent of a colonel.

Follow Jack Serle on Twitter. Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project, subscribe to our podcast, Drone News from the Bureau, and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Diseased Politics

Only in the fevered little minds of the corporate media could a small but scary domestic outbreak of Ebola be trumpeted as an "October surprise."

It's not so much that this disease is killing thousands of people in Africa, or that stupid cuts in basic domestic public health programs have exposed the most expensive health care system in the entire world as a gigantic slab of Swiss cheese. It's how Ebola will affect the congressional mid-terms.

From The Hill:
The mounting anxiety has made politicians extra attentive to Ebola, with candidates  seizing on the spread of the virus to hammer their opponents.
The issue is particularly fraught for Democrats, given signs that President Obama’s dragging poll numbers could help Republicans take control of the Senate. Though Ebola is unlikely to move the needle in specific races, political strategists say it adds to the darkening public mood. 
While the usual suspects at Fox News and Clear Channel screech that Ebola is sneaking through the borders to kill us all as a result of a presidential terror plot, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (himself a former public health official) is refusing to allow even the sterile ashes of medical waste to contaminate his state's precious toxic landfills, the Democrats blame Republicans for cuts in public health programs while whining, according to The Hill, that "Ebola is drowning out their main campaign messages, particularly on the improving economy."

Holy Eboley.

Meanwhile, after sending out a near-constant blast of fundraising email spam and raising a record amount of cash on such appealing appeals as "Doomsday!," and "Final Notice!!!!", the Democrats have already preemptively declared defeat on the front page of the paper of record. Makes you want to demand a refund, or sue for political malpractice. (Assuming, that is, that you gave. I still keep getting reminders, in the form of friendly threats, that my payment thus far to the Act Blue collection agency has been a big fat 0 dollars.)

Could you ask for a more diseased duopoly?  It makes you want to don your flimsy corporate-issue protective gear before running straight to the polls to cast your vote for your favorite pathogen. 

The Republicans are perfectly adept at constantly exposing themselves as big fat cynical idiots. But the Democrats need some extra help. About those drastic GOP cuts to the public health infrastructure complained about by the We Suck Less Party? Let the American Public Health Association explain:
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 makes a number of investments in public health, but also cuts millions of dollars from critical health agencies.
Under Obama’s proposal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see cuts to its program-level funding of about $243 million, or 3.5 percent, from fiscal year 2014. The agency’s budget would shrink from $6.85 billion to $6.61 billion. As part of that funding, CDC would receive $810 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the landmark fund created by the Affordable Care Act to support prevention programs nationwide.

  In a March letter to members of the U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees, APHA noted that Obama’s proposed budget would cut CDC’s budget authority to fiscal year 2003 levels.(my bold)
“While we appreciate some of the targeted increases in the president’s budget, other important CDC programs would face level funding or significant reductions,” said the letter, which was signed by members of the CDC Coalition. “We believe that Congress should prioritize funding for all of the activities and programs supported by CDC that are essential to protect the health of the American people.”

The letter asks Congress to provide $7.8 billion to CDC in its final appropriations legislation.

“While we acknowledge the ongoing fiscal pressures on federal discretionary funding, we are deeply concerned that the administration is proposing deep cuts to CDC’s budget authority, particularly on the heels of the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill that restored some of the prior reductions to CDC’s budget,” (the letter) said. “Ongoing cuts to public health programs continue to leave all of us at risk.”
And about that "darkening public mood?" New York Times columnist Frank Bruni suggests that we Americans (who "do panic really well") just stop with the hysteria, buckle our seat belts, drive off to get tested and treated for Hepatitis C while getting our annual flu shots as we lay off the sugary sodas and give up our gun fetish:
I’m not dismissing the horror of Ebola, a full-blown crisis in Africa that should command the whole world’s assistance. And Ebola in the United States certainly warrants concern. We’re still searching for definitive answers about transmission and prevention.
But Americans already have such answers about a host of other, greater perils to our health, and we’d be wiser to reacquaint ourselves with those, and recommit to heeding them, than to worry about our imminent exposure to Ebola.
Of course he's right about prioritizing. He just forgets to mention that relentless bipartisan fiscal austerity in service to plutocratic greed has put a real damper on American health and a severe dent into our individual economic ability to prioritize. My comment:
Maybe we panic really well because on any given day, 20% of us are in medical collections. Medical debt remains the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.
According to the health care consumer site NerdWallet, American households lost $2,300 in median income between 2010 and 2013, but our health care expenses increased by an average $1,814. Many of us are imprudently putting off that doctor's visit because we'd rather eat.
Have you researched the actual price of those curative Hep-C pills? Gilead, the drug-maker, charges $84,000 for each recommended 12-week course. That's $1,000 a day. Quite the pathological profit for them, given that their actual manufacturing cost for an individual regimen is only $136. To add insult to injury, Gilead avoids US taxes by locating its corporate HQ in Ireland. (They charge poor countries a little less, only because of the agreement the White House made with Big Pharma to forgo price negotiations in order to lower drug costs. It was a quid pro quo for the Affordable Care Act.)

Several states have severely cut back on their annual free flu shot clinics this year. And as cruel as the Republicans are, even the 2015 White House budget calls for a $1.3 billion cut in discretionary public health programs. This includes a $36 million cut in the CDC's immunization services and $54 million from its public response and preparedness programs.

The only things we have to fear are unregulated capitalism and corrupt politicians.
Austerity kills.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Money, Class and Ebola

An adult patient in extreme pain, spiking a 103-degree fever of unknown origin, gets discharged from a Texas hospital emergency room for one reason, and one reason only: no health insurance. It wasn't rank medical incompetence or missed communications among an overworked staff that sent a critically ill Thomas Eric Duncan out the door. It was, very likely, unwritten hospital policy. No card, no money, no extended service beyond the minimum legal requirements: I can almost guarantee it. A study by the Academy of Emergency Medicine, relying on data from over 80,000 patient visits to a large university medical center, reveals that insured patients are admitted to medical floors more often than the uninsured, for the same complaints and conditions.

This initial refusal of admission is likely what caused Duncan and his family to try to tough it out for days until, in desperation, they called an ambulance. By then, he was probably beyond help.

American politicians love to boast that "we" have the greatest health care system in the entire world, well-equipped to handle Ebola cases. This cavalier statement got a well-deserved jolt when a nurse treating Duncan came down with the virus herself over the weekend, despite the vaunted precautions. It is assumed that she has health insurance from the hospital employing her. In any case, she was immediately admitted. Why she wasn't flown to one of the centers with expertise in treating Ebola -- as was an NBC cameraman and others who contracted the disease in Africa -- isn't known.

Meanwhile, there are millions of homegrown Thomas Eric Duncans out there, uninsured or underinsured, who each and every day are absolutely hesitating to seek medical help if they start feeling sick. One little trip to the emergency room is enough to bankrupt anyone -- whether they're covered under Obamacare or not. According to a new study by the personal finance site NerdWallet, more Americans are going broke from medical bills than ever before.

We can't afford to get treatment for our diseases.

The bean-counters at Texas Presbyterian likely knew that it would have been next to impossible to get Thomas Eric Duncan into collections once he was successfully treated and left the area or went back to Liberia. As a foreigner, he wouldn't have qualified for expanded Medicaid coverage even if Texas had accepted the coverage.

It's getting hard out there for for-profit health care systems to extract money from their strapped domestic customers:
  • NerdWallet Health has found that Americans pay three times more in third-party collections of medical debt each year than they pay for bank and credit card debt combined. In 2014, roughly one in five American adults will be contacted by a debt collection agency about medical bills, but they may be overpaying – NerdWallet found rampant hospital billing errors resulting in overcharges of up to 26%.
  • NerdWallet found 63% of American adults indicate they have received medical bills that cost more than they expected. At the same time, 73% of consumers agree they could make better health decisions if they knew the cost of medical care before receiving it.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, American households lost $2,300 in median income, but their health care expenses increased by $1,814.[1] Out-of-pocket spending is expected to accelerate to a 5.5% annual growth rate by 2023 – double the growth of real GDP.
(graphic: NerdWallet)
Because of its cruel social policies, America is a fertile breeding-ground for disease outbreaks. Since we don't have universal health care, we think twice about seeing a doctor. We don't have federal mandatory paid sick leave-- the 40 million American workers who don't enjoy even one single paid sick day are mainly employed in the low-wage food service and child care fields. We're taught to tough it out, to slog into work with our sniffles, low-grade fevers and hacking coughs. We spread our germs to our restaurant patrons, our supermarket customers, our classrooms full of kids. Too many sick days, too often spent staying home to care for sick kids, and we might be out of a job. There are too many unemployed people out there waiting in line, ready to take our jobs if we let a few symptoms get in the way of progress.

And despite their sanitized gated communities, security guards, private schools and concierge medical services, rich people are not immune. They interact with us whether they realize it or not. They sleep on sheets laundered by others, eat food prepared by others, breathe the same air as everybody else.

Conversely, the rich are also fully capable of transmitting disease to the poor. Celebrity NBC medical reporter Nancy Snyderman, M.D. was caught getting takeout at the ironically named Peasant Grill in Hopewell, New Jersey last week when she should have been in home quarantine, having been exposed to Ebola in Liberia with the rest of her news crew. Naughty Nancy, ironically named by Readers Digest as the 30th most trusted person in America, was busted by the health police and sent back into isolation. So it seems that the rules do occasionally apply to the elites too, especially when they threaten to sicken other elites. It's the affinity fraud, Bernie Madoff type of crime. When the wealthy become victims of the wealthy, justice prevails.

The plutocrats running this show had better get with the program: selfishness and greed are hazardous to their health, too. Social Darwinism is a pathology deadlier than any plague.

"I don’t know about you, but I like it here. Sure, life can get complicated, hard to get through, and it’s not always fun, but I don’t want to be shown the door anytime soon. If there are ways I can enhance my health and longevity with healthy habits, if there are appropriate screening measures for my age group, if there are new lifesaving treatments I can access, then I want to know about them so that I can stay around and be kicking up my heels when I’m ninety." -- Nancy Snyderman, on Why It's All About Nancy.

Healthy, Wealthy and Snyde(rman)