Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Terror in the Big Apple

When two New York City police officers were shot to death this month, they were parked in front of a public housing project during an anti-terrorism training exercise. That just about says it all.

Cop union boss Patrick Lynch is actually correct about there being a war in the Big Apple. But it's not only a war of the cops against a liberal Democratic mayor and against the people protesting police brutality. It's the war of neoliberalism against the poor and working classes, and it's been going on for decades. The cops function to ease the gentrification process, and to contain the disposable populations. It's the rich whom they serve and protect. And thus it was no anomaly that the US vice president, the governor of New York, and all manner of dignitaries ostentatiously attended the funeral of one lowly murdered cop last weekend. The dead man is a symbol of their own endangered law, their own endangered order. Not for concern for the hoi polloi, either, is the New York Times wringing its hands over an alleged work slow-down by some selfish counterrevolutionary cops.

If the whole world is a battlefield, then the inner cities abutting the enclaves of the obscene rich are the theaters of modern  guerrilla warfare. Poor neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, where the cop shooting took place, might as well be another Mogadishu or Fallujah as far as the elites are concerned.

The wealth gap in New York City is the most extreme in the United States, with the city simultaneously housing a record number of billionaires and a record number of poor people. Homelessness is at a record high, and half the population is living in or near poverty.  From Bloomberg:
The most commonly used measure of inequality is the Gini index, which ranges between 0, which would be complete equality (everyone in a community has the same income), and 1, which is complete inequality (one person has all the income, all others none).  Manhattan’s Gini index stood at 0.596 in 2012, higher than that of South Africa before the Apartheid-ending 1994 election. (The U.S. average is 0.471.) If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 for which the World Bank reports data. In 2009 New York’s wealthiest one percent earned a third of the entire municipality’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.
The same patterns can be seen, albeit to a lesser extent, in other major cities. A 2006 analysis by the Brookings Institution showed the percentage of middle income families declined precipitously in the 100 largest metro areas from 1970 to 2000.
Meanwhile, based on the number of actual boots on the ground, the NYPD  is now the seventh largest army on the entire planet.

The collapse of the financial system in 2008 only accentuated the plight of the already marginalized living in poor urban neighborhoods. Even low-level employment opportunities collapsed, and brutal austerity measures under both a billionaire mayor (Michael Bloomberg) and the deficit hawks in both national political parties oversaw food stamp cuts and unemployment insurance and other drastic reductions in the social safety net.  Foreclosures on subprime mortgage disproportionately hit black and Latino populations, while the financial fraudsters of Wall Street have not only gone unpunished, but have succeeded in extracting even more wealth as a reward for their own malfeasance.

And the week before Christmas, two cops sat in their squad car, parked outside of a building which houses the poor and downtrodden. In the war on terror, the poor and downtrodden are considered terrorists until proven otherwise. The "disposition matrix" constructed by President Obama and his CIA consigliere John Brennan has come home to the Homeland. And HQ Central of the Homeland is in the Big Apple. Goldman Sachs even shares office space with the cops in its taxpayer-subsidized office tower. (If nothing else, the city police are suffering from one hell of a post-Bloomberg hangover. No more Muslim-stalking. No more stop-and-frisk. It must be hard to have a new mayor trying to at least somewhat reverse a fascist coup.)

The two murdered police officers were victims not only of the crazed shooter -- they were collateral damage of the tenuous oligarchic system that employed them. They were working overtime, probably to earn some extra money for Christmas. Cops, as members of the middle class Precariat, are tasked with keeping the real underclass in line. The plutocracy draws its domestic armed forces not from within its own class,  but from the ranks of the working poor, integrating them into its program of economic and political oppression. Police forces are the low-intensity (usually) military ops for the elites. No wonder the rulers get all shaken up when a few of their domestic troops get killed. If you actually think they personally give a shit about the murdered cops, though, think again. They are mourning symbols of their own power, not the disposable bullet-ridden human bodies.

Two cops were sitting in their squad car in front of a public housing project, learning how to detect the terror camouflaged in every neighborhood resident. They were there to learn how to track and target people moving about within the cluttered infrastructure, there to detect threats in the mundane activities and spaces of everyday life.

It was probably no accident that another recent police shooting took place within another Brooklyn public housing project, neglected by the same austerity policies which have destroyed the hope and dignity of so many people. A cop shot and killed a resident for the offense of simply moving and existing within his own pitch-black stairwell. The officer apparently panicked, but he'd also been effectively trained to automatically criminalize the tenants of projects.

And while cops patrol the domiciles of the demonized poor, the free-marketers of both political parties have ramped up selling out public housing to vulture capitalists. In a little-noticed section of this month's corporate giveaway known as the Cromnibus Bill, the number of public housing units being "privatized" by the Obama administration has tripled, from 60,000 to 180,000 units.

Of course, the neoliberals of HUD are euphemising this corruption by calling the program "Rental Assistance Demonstration" (RAD). It's rad, all right -- in a scary Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand kind of way. Not only did  RAD go from an unproven pilot program to full-scale evisceration of public housing in the space of only a few months, it puts the lives of the poor -- mainly elderly and women -- into the clutches of the same predators who destroyed the housing market through subprime fraud in the first place. The Obama administration has once again chosen the rentiers over the renters. And it set the stage for this privatization of the units by deliberately underfunding public housing in every proposed White House budget since 2010.

The developers who take over public housing (a major safety net for the poor) will be able to set their own rents and, as usual, will be immune from all government oversight and accountability should the dwellings fall into even further disrepair. The renters themselves will receive government rent vouchers instead of protective leases. Foreclosures and evictions are distinct possibilities and are all part and parcel of the "creative destruction" of poor neighborhoods.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) complained to Obama about the selling-out of public housing in her own Watts district, but to no avail. (After all, he got his start in Chicago politics thanks to the FIRE gentrification crowd). Waters said, “Put simply, if the price of accessing private capital is to put public housing ownership at risk, then that price is too high. A more appropriate and sustainable approach would be for the federal government to provide adequate funding directly to the public housing program.”

And as tenants rights advocate Lynda Carson writes,
In addition to RAD destroying thousands of good union public housing jobs across the nation, RAD pits low-income renters in the Section 8 program against public housing tenants needing Section 8 vouchers. Because RAD results in displacing tenants from their public housing units, the tenants are pressured to accept Section 8 vouchers to find another place to reside. Vouchers that may not be worth much as the on-going massive sequestration budget cuts destroy the Section 8 voucher program.
According to a November 2014 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), massive sequestration budget cuts that are still in effect have resulted in the loss of 100,000 Section 8 vouchers (Housing Choice Vouchers) during 2013. Unless the sequestration budget cuts are ended which is unlikely once Republicans take total control of Congress on January 1, 2015, public housing tenants pressured to accept Section 8 vouchers because of the RAD program are being placed at risk of homelessness.
And isn't that the whole plan? More open green spaces, less housing for the marginalized and criminalized poor to hide from the paranoid and predatory rich.

 Neighborhoods on the elite chopping block have been transformed into military Human Terrain Systems.  CCTV at every intersection allows real instances of urban violence to supplement the fictional fare that Hollywood produces to frighten us into submission. If citizens can envision urban areas and housing projects as hotbeds of savagery, then citizens can also accept more police and more jails. It's an endless propaganda feedback loop, in which both the cognitively superior "liberal" elites and the fundamentalist right-wingers are manipulated into joining forces in their hatred of the "Other". One side calls them IQ-deficient gun-loving losers in need of a hand up rather than a handout. The other side calls them godless moochers and takers lolling about on their hammocks of dependency.

Two cops, sitting in their patrol car, guarding against terror in front of the place where the poor people live.

America: where life itself has been a war for a long, long time.

You can watch the Ball drop tonight in Times Square.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Propaganda Game's Afoot

There will be no need, after all, for us to don our Sherlock Holmes tinfoil deerstalkers to investigate whether there's an orchestrated White House-corporate media plot underway to gaslight Americans into believing that their economic travails are mainly all in their heads. (see my last post.)

The game's afoot, Watson. And since it's brain-damaging football season, it's being advertised as a sporting event that we're all invited to attend. The agenda is this: rather
than acknowledge the most extreme wealth gap in modern history and suggesting legislation ( say, higher taxes on the rich) to do something about it, President Obama will be embarking on yet another propaganda campaign tour to convince us that we're nuts if we continue to believe these times are really all that hard.

The pompom-waving change we can believe in is the changing of the American mind about reality itself. From Politico:
Changing Americans’ sense of the economy is Obama’s critical project for the next two years, and he and his aides know it. His own legacy depends on it — neither health care, immigration reform, opening an embassy in Cuba nor anything else is going to add up to much if most people feel like they’re worse off than the day of his inauguration.
 Analysts agree that improving Americans’ sense of the economy is the single most important thing Obama can do for Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee: Whether she wins will most likely hinge significantly on whether the “Obama-Clinton economy” is a positive Democratic slogan or a snide Republican talking point.
 But for now, the growing pile of economic data that Obama and his aides believe demonstrate his success digging the country out after the financial collapse hasn’t broken through, and they know it. Wages haven’t kept up, prices keep rising, and Obama seems to be presiding over a period in which Americans’ lives are getting more difficult.
This insider's view of the inner workings of the Beltway group-think brain presupposes that the targets of the coming onslaught of propaganda don't read Politico and thus will be totally fooled by the most syrupy bromides to come out of a presidential mouth since.... well, at least since his last weekly address, repeated so dutifully by the liberal pundits I wrote about the other day. Not only are Obama and his stenographers stupidly revealing their own dishonest strategy for all the world to see, they're actually starting to believe it themselves. Obama only seems to be presiding over some of the most truly horrific hard times in modern history. All he needs to do is change the slogan or the "narrative," and all will be right with his world.
“You can’t convince people that their paycheck is going farther than it was — and you shouldn’t try. That would be a big mistake. What you can do is try to affect people’s optimism for the long term,” said a senior Obama adviser. “If we can make people understand that there are reasons for a bright future and the president has a plan to address what ails them, then that will be real progress.”
Of course, there is no real plan. There just has to be a perception that a plan is coming down the pike. And Obama's in his fourth quarter and time is beginning to run out! Ever notice how the actual lives of struggling people are always treated as a sporting event to which they are mere helpless spectators? It seems like only yesterday (because it was only yesterday) that I got yet another money-grubbing appeal from "Barack Obama": 
Some folks have started to call this the "fourth quarter" of my presidency. In a game, with the clock ticking down, that's when you want your best team out there.

That's what this email is about. It's because of folks like you that I'm able to give this everything I've got in the next two years.
As Politico tells it, though, we're still stuck in the pre-game show as the fourth quarter gets underway:
Ideas are still being proposed, vetted through the budget process, nixed and reworked for the State of the Union. But already, White House aides are starting to see some preliminary proposals that they believe will break through to talk about and show where economic progress is taking hold, and trying to spark what they like to refer to as a serious debate about issues middle-class families care about, with possible initiatives ranging from early childhood education to housing.
This is just pathetic. One in thirty children in this country is homeless, and they want to spark a debate? "Preliminary" is a word we should hear at the beginning of a presidential term, not near the end of one. But if it isn't the nihilist Republicans, it's the damned travel schedule of the leader of the free world:
But Obama won’t have much time immediately after the Jan. 20 speech to press the message himself. Only a few days after he addresses Congress, he’ll head to India for a number of events with the new prime minister.
 Obama aides continue to point back to the speech he delivered at Northwestern as a guide for what’s ahead — “a new foundation,” with “cornerstones” that include investments in the energy, tech and manufacturing; education and job training; health care reform; and structural overhaul.
What the hell does that even mean? Paging George Orwell, who in Politics and the English Language eviscerated this kind of muddled thinking. It is so sweepingly generalized as to be meaningless by intent. Obama's largely ignored Northwestern speech and its endless variations  are textbook cases of what Orwell called the "defense of the indefensible":
 Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
What could be more cloudily vague and hackneyed than a "New Foundation" whose cornerstones include "investments" and "structural overhaul" of education and health care? Brutalities such as 40 million people still lacking medical insurance, and the anti-labor, child-abusive privatization of public education, and the continued offshoring of manufacturing via secretive trade pacts are not cornerstones, but rather huge blocks of cement meant to weigh us down and ultimately bury us.

There are endless variations on the trite tactics of persuasion. When the Edward Snowden revelations got people all riled up, the  government surveillance of Americans didn't cease. And nobody went to jail or got castigated in the media except the whistleblowers. The only thing that's had to be changed is people's perceptions that loss of their civil rights and privacy is even a bad thing. It's the same tactic the politicians used when they rammed austerity down our throats. Rather than admitting they are in total thrall to the plutocrats running the place, they couched their slashing of the social safety net in terms of patriotic "sharing the sacrifice" and "we're all in this together."

But there's a harsh light at the end of this tunnel of journalistic and political vacuity. Politico unintentionally admits that Obama's charm offensive will only serve to mask his real agenda: putting the permanent screws to what's left of the working and middle class. In modern Orwellian Politico-speak, this is called "bipartisanship" -- or if you prefer your whammies to be triple ones, "triangulation."
On the Hill, they’re less interested in high-minded talk of principles than clear legislation, with particular emphasis on the corporate tax reform and trade deals that Obama and his advisers have for months identified as their best chance for striking deals with Republicans.
 “He has every right to go out and talk about his message. But he ought to spend more time up here, working with Democrats and Republicans alike on passing items that will actually help improve the wages of middle-class Americans and provide more opportunity for growth in the economy,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who’s met privately with Obama and offered himself as a bridge for bipartisan economic deals.
Portman talks out of both sides of his mouth with the best of them. He moans that Obama isn't coddling him "up here" but then admits that the president is stroking him down there --  that is, meeting with him "privately," and plotting who's going to play the part of the human bridge to Kochtopia in the latest episode of Corrupt Kabuki.

It's political pornography and it's doublespeak and it can only be harmful to our collective mental health if we choose to succumb to it.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

When Pangloss Attacks

When two Democratic pundits write essentially the same column about what a great year it's been, you're tempted to don your tinfoil Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and ponder whether the game's afoot.

 In this episode, the detective travels back in time and comes face to face with a villain even worse than Professor Moriarty: the dreaded Doctor Pangloss!

You might remember Doc P from Voltaire's Candide, which satirizes phony glass-half-full optimism in the face of every unspeakable catastrophe known to man. Pangloss literally spans the globe to find the bright sides to the Lisbon earthquake, to the Inquisition, to Western hemisphere plunder and genocide, and all the wars and diseases and famines in between. If you can't find something to be glad about in any crisis or cataclysm, that's your problem. If you think life sucks, you've simply been listening to the political enemies of the feel-good State.

Today's Panglossian scourge is brought to you by Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Michael Grunwald of Politico. You might think one guy is plagiarizing the other, but that would be totally unfair. They're both simply aping the talking points mouthed by President Obama and his cohort in the neoliberal echo chamber: life is good, and America is exceptional, and the naysayers are evil for telling you otherwise. Sure, things may seem dire to millions of us, but that's mainly because the Republicans will tell any lie to make Obama look bad. If you'd only pay attention and turn off Fox News once in awhile, then you'd hear the choirs of angels getting louder all the time.

Your misery is all in your head. So let them gaslight you into meek submission through some message-disciplined tandem columnizing:

All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.
Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year, you see something completely different. Amid all the derision, a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.
Start with Ebola, a subject that has vanished from the headlines so fast it’s hard to remember how pervasive the panic was just a few weeks ago. Judging from news media coverage, especially but not only on cable TV, America was on the verge of turning into a real-life version of “The Walking Dead.” And many politicians dismissed the efforts of public health officials to deal with the disease using conventional methods. Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa, imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.(Krugman, Tidings of Comfort.)
Let’s face it: The press has a problem reporting good news. Two Americans died of Ebola and cable TV flipped out; now we’re Ebola-free and no one seems to care. The same thing happened with the flood of migrant children across the Mexican border, which was a horrific crisis until it suddenly wasn’t. Nobody’s going to win a Pulitzer Prize for recognizing that we’re smoking less, driving less, wasting less electricity and committing less crime. Police are killing fewer civilians, and fewer police are getting killed, but understandably, after the tragedies in Ferguson and Brooklyn, nobody’s thinking about that these days. The media keep us in a perpetual state of panic about spectacular threats to our safety — Ebola, sharks, terrorism — but we’re much likelier to die in a car accident. Although, it ought to be said, much less likely than we used to be; highway fatalities are down 25 percent in a decade. (Grunwald, Everything Is Awesome!)
What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength — 5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009, accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy, have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all. (Krugman, Tidings of Comfort)
Come to think of it, the 62 percent of Americans who described the economy as “poor” in a CNN poll a week before the Republican landslide in the midterm elections were also wrong. I guess that sounds elitist. Second-guessing the wisdom of the public may be the last bastion of political correctness; if ordinary people don’t feel good about the economy, then the recovery isn’t supposed to be real. But aren’t the 11 million Americans who have landed new jobs since 2010 and the 10 million Americans who have gotten health insurance since 2013 ordinary Americans? It’s true that wage growth has remained slow, but the overall economic trends don’t jibe with the public’s lousy mood. And the public definitely does get stuff wrong.( Grunwald, Everything Is Awesome!)
Finally, there’s the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare, which is just finishing up its first year of full implementation. It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign against health reform — which has played up every glitch, without ever mentioning that the problem has been solved, and invented failures that never happened — that I fairly often encounter people, some of them liberals, who ask me whether the administration will ever be able to get the program to work. Apparently nobody told them that it is working, and very well. (Krugman, Tidings of Comfort)
The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.
Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people. (Barack Obama, weekly address, 12/20/14)
All events are linked together in the best of possible worlds; for, after all, if you had not been driven from a fine castle by being kicked in the backside for love of Miss CunĂ©gonde, if you hadn’t been sent before the Inquisition, if you hadn’t traveled across America on foot, if you hadn’t given a good sword thrust to the baron, if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be sitting here eating candied citron and pistachios.(Pangloss, Candide.)
Krugman and Grunwald both like to portray themselves as "pragmatic progressives" who admonish us to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this best of all possible worlds. They are neoliberal shills, of the type Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has termed "radical" in their own passive-aggressive way. They are corporate Democrats whose m.o. is to regularly call out both the right and left for "extremism." They deflect attention from White House corruption and plutocratic ownership of the government by effortlessly cherrypicking instances where GOP shills were wrong (Ebola, climate change, the child immigrant invasion, Obama's alleged hatred of big business), and using this mendacity  to prop up the Wall Street Dems. And to prove what stand-up guys they are, they always honorably add the qualifier that Democratic initiatives have been more tepid "than we would have liked". But what's a president to do in the face of such blind hatred and nihilism?

In short, lesser evilism is all they've got. 

They're of the type that will defend their political party, right or wrong. They're of the type that can condemn Bush-era torture out of one side of their mouth and gloss over Obama-era drone assassinations with the other.

As a matter of fact, Grunwald (who then worked at Time) gained notoriety last year when he Tweeted "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange."

He later apologized for the Tweet, but whined that just one ill-conceived message should not be grounds for condemnation. One Tweet, he said, isn't who he is -- the same way that "torturing some folks" isn't who America is. He also fumed that only right-wing libertarians should have a problem with Obama's drones, that all criticism of the White House -- be it that of the GOP against environmental regulations or that of progressives against security state overreach -- is similarly deranged.

Friedersdorf analyzed this authoritarian, Obamabotic mindset, so eerily reminiscent of Bush's crazed message to the Iraq War critics: "You're either with us or against us."
It is nevertheless worth dwelling on his tweet a moment longer, because it illuminates a type that is common but seldom pegged in America. You see, Grunwald is a radical ideologue. It's just that almost no one recognizes it. The label "radical ideologue" is usually used to describe Noam Chomsky or members of the John Birch Society. We think of radical ideologues as occupying the far right or left. Lately a lot of people seem to think that The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald is a radical (often they wrongly conflate the style with which he expresses his views with their substance). 
But Grunwald graduated from Harvard, spent a decade at the Washington Post, and now works as a senior correspondent at Time. How radical could someone with that resume possibly be?
Extremely so.
For Krugman's part, he entirely avoids addressing such Obaman civil liberties atrocities as drone strikes and surveillance on Americans and the war on whistleblowers and suppression of the free press. His latest contribution to the established order (besides his serial shilling for the Affordable Care Act, that is) has been to join in the anti-Putin chorus, without even seeing fit to mention that the neocons in the Obama administration helped foment a coup against the democratically-elected Ukraine government. Robert Parry over at ConsortiumNews has some good takedowns of Krugman's descent into party-line propaganda here and here.

Parry is right. The sycophantic "liberal" columnists in our midst are starting to exude a distinctly totalitarian aroma. Krugman and Grunwald lack the basic honesty to admit that the economic growth (aka corporate profits) is due largely to speculative bubbles enabled by the further whittling away of Wall Street regulation, as well as by the brutal war on workers: demands by the elite bosses for increased labor output at stagnating or reduced wages. Neither liberal pundit saw fit to mention the ever widening income disparity, or that orders for durable goods fell for the third month in a row, or that home sales are declining.

The disease of Panglossitis is infecting and suffocating us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wassailing the Wealthy

The Christmas season is traditionally the one time of year that we're permitted, even encouraged, to burst forth from our hovels to guilt-trip the rich while spreading  joy and fellowship throughout the land.

Key word: traditionally. Because according to government studies, the charity coffers are dwindling and fewer of us are reaching out to our fellow human beings in these hard times. In sixteen out of the twenty categories measured, the levels of social engagement by Americans have plummeted this year. People are either too busy working multiple minimum wage jobs, or too depressed about their worklessness, to be able to extend themselves. Volunteerism, as well as average household wealth, has dropped precipitously since the Great Meltdown of '08. An estimated two million fewer Americans volunteered last year than they did in 2012.

Besides the actual cost of volunteering (say, reliable transportation) are the increasingly erratic work schedules foisted upon the Precariat by the owner class during this New Abnormal Era. People working insecure crazy hours at Walmart or McDonalds, for example, are less likely to commit to helping and socializing because they never know, from one week to the next, what hours they'll be assigned to work. Increasingly, people no longer feel like they own their own time.

The professional philanthropy/donor class, meanwhile, is becoming ever more selective in its own generosity. The extremely rich are wont to "invest" in places rather than in causes and people, and insist that their charity be tax-deductible. They tend to give to the arts, to medical research (the rich get sick too) and elite institutions of higher learning. Living, breathing human beings  not part of one's dynasty are not tax deductible  -- they are, however, eminently disposable. Charities such as the Salvation Army and United Way, that give aid more or less directly to the poor, are really hurting this year.

Says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, "The favored charities of the wealthy are gaining in share of the philanthropic economy. The total amount of the money given away by the very wealthy is going up, not because they're giving away a greater share of their income, but because their total wealth itself has grown."

And that brings us to the lost tradition of wassailing: directly accosting and assailing the uber-rich for a share of the pie. The modern substitute of representative democracy, in which the politicians we elect to represent us are supposed to tax the rich in order to even the playing field is yet one more tradition now relegated to the scrap heap of the public good.

The custom of orphans and beggars going door to door and serenading the ruling class right where they live dates at least as far back as the third century. The landowners and nobility would  briefly open their homes to provide a little warmth, food, and mystery liquid from the Wassail Bowl. The wassail songs themselves were but gentle, good-natured reminders to the rich that 'tis the season for noblesse-obliging.

During times of plague and famine, however, the wassailing tradition would often devolve into armed home invasions, leading to the siege mentality so common among our sensitive ruling elites today. Not that wassailing ever really caught on in Exceptional America anyway, founded as it was on a shiny, right-leaning hill. As a matter of fact, the Pilgrims actually banned the whole celebration of Christmas!  Those Puritans we honor at Thanksgiving were the original Bah-Humbugs.

Let's face it: fast forward, almost 400 years, and anybody daring to go on a Wassail Jaunt through the Blackwater-guarded gated communities of the Forbes 400 is really taking his life in his hands.

In early 19th century New York City, the rich and the prominent were very upset when the rabble rabbled during Yule. Gunfire, bread riots, lots of sex and drunkenness and vice sent the privileged behind locked doors, where they've remained ever since. The evolution of Christmas in income-disparate America into insular closed-door gatherings was a direct result of elite paranoia.

Technical Difficulties

Something buggy going on with the blog... unexplained superimposed text, etc. 

Sorry for the inconvenience. Will be back when I can.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

You'd Better Not Pout, You'd Better Not Cry

You'd better not run and you'd better not hide. Because Stasi Claus has a new helper, and his name is Little Big Brother.

 To get American children (whom the Obama administration has creepily designated the "Homeland Generation") ready for a whole lifetime of surveillance, there's a grotesquely cute little plastic dude called Elf on the Shelf that parents are being urged to buy in order to get their kids used to a total lack of privacy.

It's up to Mom or Dad to place the Elf in a new spot every night after the children go to sleep. The little ones will never know when or where they'll be assaulted by his insipid little face as they go about their morning business. Some particularly abusive parents have even been known to perch the little gizmo on the toilet tank, setting the stage for a whole new generation of perverts and exhibitionists, not to mention kitschy bathroom artistes.

I wrote about this fascistic phenomenon last year. And despite the Ed Snowden revelations, the tradition of pediatric surveillance remains as popular as ever, with the doll now esconced in an estimated six million American homes. Parents anxious to score a $50 gift certificate from Amazon are still sending in their photos (Shelfie Elfie Selfies are always welcome) and providing reams of free publicity to the toy manufacturer. Do I even need to mention that the overpriced toys are made in China for pennies, and that the infomercial of a cartoon about them was outsourced to animators in India?

This got me wondering: are the parents/guardians who buy into this sick game the same people who think torturing other human beings is O.K.? It wouldn't surprise me.

It's good to read that some psychologists, besides condemning the torturer-shrinks in their professional midst, are also now coming forth and warning of the long-term deleterious mental health affects of creepy surveillance fetishes dressed in cheery Christmas red. Selina Nemorin and Laura Pinto of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives have written about Elf on the Shelf mission-creep, noting that the toy is now even included in Common Core curricula in many corporatized American classrooms. I guess it's one way to force bored kids to sit still and take those soul-crushing standardized tests.

It's also a way to register children for a master corporate data base. When families and schools sign up for the fun, they agree that all rights to privacy will be gladly relinquished. The corporation has the right to use your name and your likeness for sale and profit as well as for virtual mind control.

"Elf on the Shelf presents a unique and prescriptive form of play that blurs the distinction between play time and real life," the authors of the Canadian piece write. Children are forced to endure and contend with the rules of the game at all times. They may not touch or play with the all-powerful doll, because if they do, the consequences will be dire. The elf will disappear and report back to Santa. (who is called "The Boss" in the game... like a Tony Soprano kind of boss) It's designed to transform the average home into a virtual Panopticon, the model prison envisioned by Jeremy Bentham, where inmates are always docile because they never know when they're being watched.

What might normally be considered a toy has been subverted into The All Powerful Other. No cuddling and back-talk allowed. Or else.

What Say We Permanently Shelve the NSA Elf?


Friday, December 19, 2014

"We" Still Torture Some Folks

Uh-oh. Looks like President Obama goofed in the grammatical tense department. Seriously, though, when he signed his executive order banning torture on his first day in office in 2009, he didn't say anything about not outsourcing torture to compliant friends, and allowing CIA and Special Ops forces to still threaten to torture and sexually abuse prisoners in black sites abroad.

No word whether these still-active "enhanced interrogators" were among the anonymous patriots whose identities were redacted from the Senate torture report, so that they may continue to work and thrive with impunity as shadow government thugs. (The Intercept has a chilling report on one of them, a female who reportedly was the inspiration for the "Zero Dark Thirty" Hollywood/CIA joint propaganda venture.)

Since a special UN rapporteur has also called long-term solitary confinement in US prisons torture, the detainee in the following report can truly be called an international torture victim. He was physically and psychologically abused in a tiny CIA-controlled African state before being "renditioned" back to the aptly named Tombs in New York City -- where he's been locked up in solitary for the past two years, for 23 hours a day.

US Attorney Loretta Sanchez, Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, is handling the case. Her lame excuse that the detainee had not yet been charged when undergoing the "techniques," and so was not technically deserving of American due process at the time, gives us a hint about what kind of compliant, terror state-serving chief law enforcement officer she'll make. The two-year-long pretrial solitary confinement is blamed on the difficulty of extraditing witnesses.

Here's the whole scoop, cross-posted from the Great Britain-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism: 

Citizenship Revoked

Former British citizen, Mahdi Hashi, ‘illegally interrogated’ by US officials in Djibouti

By Victoria Parsons

A former British citizen detained in Djibouti in 2012 alleges he was threatened with physical and sexual abuse and “strongly encouraged” to cooperate with American interrogators before being rendered to New York, court documents reveal.

Mahdi Hashi, who is awaiting trial in the US on terror-related charges, was stripped of his British citizenship in June 2012, just a few months before he was detained in the tiny east African state.

Documents filed in relation to his case by his US attorney, Mark Demarco, state that Hashi was detained “in a secret Djiboutian facility under extremely harsh conditions” and was subjected to “illegal interrogation” by US intelligence officials.

The revelation comes just days after the Senate Intelligence Committee published a damning report about the CIA’s use of torture on detainees held in secret prisons between 2002 and 2007. The CIA’s program of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was banned years before Hashi was detained.

Somali-born Hashi arrived in the UK with his family as a five-year-old after they fled the civil war in their native Somalia and claimed asylum. At the age of 14, he became a British citizen.

After living in Egypt to study Arabic when he was 16, Hashi claimed he was “harassed” by British intelligence agencies and he and several others went public, telling the Independent they were being pressured into spying for MI5. Shortly after this he travelled to Somalia to care for an unwell grandmother.

By June 2012 Hashi was still living in Somalia, now married and with a son, when his parents called to tell him that a letter had arrived containing a deprivation order from the home secretary. The letter stated that his British citizenship was being removed on grounds he was “involved in Islamist extremism”. Under the law he had 28 days to appeal the decision.

Hashi claims he then left Somalia as there was no British embassy there from which he could launch an appeal. He travelled to Djibouti.

In legal filings the US government says that Hashi, and two others, were then “captured” by foreign authorities on suspicion of being terrorists. Hashi’s claims are laid out in hundreds of pages of court documents filed with the district court in the eastern district of New York. Many of the documents are not publicly accessible as they cover national security and have been sealed by the court.

According to publicly available court documents seen by the Bureau, interrogation of Hashi was conducted first by Djiboutian law enforcement agents. During this time he witnessed his co-defendant Ali Yasin Ahmed being hung “upside down from his ankles. He was gagged, blindfolded and beaten”. Hashi was blindfolded when taken from his cell and interrogated in his underwear, and threatened during those sessions with physical and sexual abuse. He was also told his co-defendants were being “raped and beaten”, he claims.

Following this was a two week interrogation by the Djiboutians along with ‘Americans’ – who Hashi believed to be either CIA or Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). He claims they repeatedly threatened him with physical abuse and “subjected [him] to psychologically abusive treatment with an aim of obtaining compliance and extracting additional information.”

Hashi claims that Djiboutian officers warned him that Americans “tortured uncooperative prisoners who refused to answer questions” and “strongly encouraged” him to cooperate.

The ‘Americans’ interrogated him more than ten times in eleven days. Hashi was not advised of his rights, namely his right to remain silent or his right to speak to a lawyer, which according to his attorneys was a violation and an “illegal interrogation”.

The US government argues that Hashi was not advised of his rights because the purpose of the interviews was to collect intelligence relating to potential, possibly imminent, threats to the United States and its allies.

The US government will not use statements made in these interrogations in their direct case. However, the government is seeking to use statements made by Hashi to FBI agents. The FBI began interrogating Hashi several days after the ealier interrogations, according to the US government.

Over the course of a month Hashi was interrogated seven times. Though he was informed of his rights prior to the FBI interrogations, he claims that each session was also attended by at least one of the Djiboutian officers who Hashi had observed torturing Ahmed or who had previously threatened Hashi with physical torture and sexual abuse.

“I feared that my refusal to cooperate would result in physical torture and sexual abuse”, Hashi has stated in an affidavit document filed with the US district court in New York.

Hashi provided the Americans with information about himself and others, including information about his alleged membership of al Shabaab.

He is charged with conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab, a designated terrorist organisation, and with using firearms during and in relation to violent crimes.

The US government says that Hashi voluntarily provided “extensive statements” to the FBI on his involvement with al Shabaab. But Demarco argues that these statements were “tainted” by the previous threats made to Hashi and the fact that there had been no change in the conditions he was kept in between the initial interrogations and the subsequent interrogations by the FBI.

In November 2012 Hashi and his co-defendants were transported to New York, where they were held in secret for five weeks before the charges against them were made public in late December. Hashi has been in solitary confinement ever since.

In this case it appears as though a “deliberate, two-step strategy was used by law enforcement to obtain the post-warning confession”, Demarco argues.

Government attorney Loretta Lynch, recently nominated by Obama to be the new attorney general, argued in previous court documents that Hashi’s statements were voluntarily made and therefore admissible. The government has applied to the court for permission to call witnesses from abroad to give evidence on the interrogation of Hashi by the FBI.

Calling witnesses from abroad has caused a delay, and the government was recently given longer by the court to respond to the defendants motion to suppress. They must now respond fully by December 23.

A version of this story also appeared on VICE News.
Follow Victoria Parsons on Twitter. Read the Citizenship Revoked investigation here and sign up for email updates on deprivation of citizenship here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

From the Department of Unintended Humor

This time, the Hillary Clinton campaign will be different. She's learned from her past mistakes, and by golly, she's proving it. Just this week alone, she's bravely jumped headlong into declaring that #BlackLivesMatter and #CubaLibre without first wading through polls and focus groups and then posting a YouTube video of her opulent self reading from a script.

 One of her operatives has even secretly met with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to discuss the re-spinning and messaging we can all look forward to! (Because even "progressives" must be allowed to meet-and-leak to Politico in the Age of Obama and Transparent Opacity.)

And the New York Times -- which has maintained a throbbing full-time Hillary Desk even while getting rid of its environment and labor beats, and laying off at least a hundred news staffers --  is so totally covering New Improved Populist Hillary. Here is how she plans to reveal "a vulnerable, less scripted and entitled side":
“Inevitability is not a message,” said Terry Shumaker, a prominent New Hampshire Democrat and former United States ambassador. “It’s not something you can run on,” he added.
These topics are being quietly discussed at private dinners with donors, at strategy talks hosted by an outside “super PAC” and in casual conversation as Mrs. Clinton greets friends at holiday parties and a Clinton Foundation fund-raiser in New York.
“If she runs, it will be different,” said Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill.
What better way to learn to connect with working class voters than to casually canoodle with millionaires and billionaires in exclusive neighborhoods and at closed fund-raising dinners at five-star restaurants? 

Not getting enough belly-laughs yet? Then be sure to read David Brooks's New York Times column from earlier this week, in which he passive-aggressively urges Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary and thereby, the unspoken message goes, pave the way for Jebbie Bush. Brooks not-so-subtly gaslights Warren by counting the exact number of times she used the word "fight" in her memoir and gushing about how her "conspiracy theories" on the big banks are so endearing to progressives.

My published comment:
When a GOP pundit jumps on the Elizabeth Warren bandwagon, you can be sure it means that Wall Street in particular and the plutocracy in general are absolutely terrified of this woman remaining in the Senate. She stands to do them some heavy duty damage in the next year and more. Her entering the "race" too early would give both Clintonites and GOP dirty tricksters more time to pull a reprise of a Howard Dean "gotcha" moment long before any serious campaigning gets started in earnest.
Would I love to see Elizabeth run? Of course I would. But she's very wise, at this moment, to be throwing cold water on the horse-race frenzy crowd. Better that she, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and a whole army of progressives all get involved in the primaries. The more there are, the more the issues -- and not the personalities -- can be the focus.
The shallow media (Maureen Dowd comes to mind) would portray a Warren challenge to Hillary as a catfight, a spectacle sure to strike glee into the heartless hearts of the GOP and Fox News.
Brooks conveniently casts progressives as being simply "against" Wall Street corruption. Actually, progressives are also FOR a lot of things: a living wage, a tax on high speed trades, single payer health care paid for by a modest (for them) tax surcharge on multimillionaires and billionaires; expansion of the social safety net, student loan forgiveness and affordable college tuition, and most important of all.... a job for anybody who wants one.
Can you imagine Elizabeth Warren's first day in the Oval Office, when the joint chiefs of staff and the CIA would confront her with their magical dossiers of fate, and various other offers she can't refuse? 

To even aspire to be president of the United States, one absolutely must be a sociopath, a person willing to leave his or her soul at the door in order to become the brutal State in human form. And despite her votes for funding of arms for Israel in particular, and the war machine in general, I simply cannot imagine Elizabeth Warren personally presiding over Terror Tuesdays and ordering drone strikes against children. I simply cannot.

Even my cynicism has its limits.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All We Like Sheep

Then one fog-of-war Christmas Eve, pollsters came to say: Americans with all their might, Proclaim that torture is all right.

Well, what else could we expect? If people are fine with presidential drone assassinations, what's a little waterboarding and rectal rape-feeding and sleep deprivation? From the Washington Post:
A majority of Americans believe that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half the public says the treatment amounted to torture, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
 By an almost 2-1 margin, or 59-to-31 percent, those interviewed support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying they produced valuable intelligence.In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”
The pollsters didn't ask, however, whether torture would be justified if practiced by our government upon white American citizens suspected of plotting homegrown domestic terrorism. Nor did they inquire whether respondents consider Muslim victims of torture to even be members of the human race. They didn't bother ascertaining whether supporters of torture had actually read the Senate report, whether they had watched Creepy Veepy Cheney defend his psychopathic self on the Sunday shows, whether they were fans of  "Zero Dark Thirty" and "24," and if so, if they believed the propaganda fell into the category of documentary film, reality TV, aspirational fiction, or porn.

They should have also asked the people who believe that torture is justified and useful whether they think that child abuse and cruelty to animals is also sometimes justified and effective. I'm willing to wager that most of the self-proclaimed pro-torture crowd would swear they'd give their last nickel to save an abused dog from being euthanized at the kill shelter down the street.

Whatever. This poll, like so many skewed others, is sure to be misinterpreted by focus group-conscious politicians as a bona fide plebiscite. It's just the P.R. ticket for Obama, the CIA, and the small j justice department to sweep the war crimes under the rug and move on, look ahead, and wave the flag. Because The Randomly Selected People Have Spoken.

The fact that pollsters made sure to inquire of the respondents' political party affiliations, and then found that acceptance of torture is essentially bipartisan. is sure to strike Christmas joy into the heart of the Consensus Builder-in-Chief. It's not a red torture-loving America, it's not a blue torture-loving America, it's the United American Torture Lovers of America. (Pay no attention to those purist extremist outliers on the left.)
Views on the CIA’s tactics break down sharply along ideological lines. Liberal Democrats are most disgusted with the agency’s actions, while conservative Republicans are most likely to defend it.
 Democrats who identify as moderate or conservative are more supportive of the program, joining majorities of independents and Republicans who say it was justified. (my bold) For example, 38 percent of liberal Democrats say the CIA’s actions were justified compared with 82 percent of conservative Republicans who say so.
 In a CBS poll released Monday, nearly seven in 10 considered waterboarding torture, but about half said the technique and others are, at times, justified. Fifty-seven percent said harsh interrogation techniques can provide information that can prevent terrorist attacks.
That a third of self-described liberals feel that torture was justified kind of gives a whole new meaning to the word "liberalism," huh? (I am tolerant of anal rape if it keeps me safe.) So does the finding that a majority think that the actual release of the report endangers national security. They apparently believe that the torture victims -- not to mention the friends, families and countrymen of the torture victims --  had no earthly idea of the abominations they suffered until they read about them in the papers or watched the coverage on TV.

So bring out the chips, dips, chains and whips. Sing tidings of comfort and joy, and drink of the groggy grog. Exceptional America has gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bipartisan War on Workers

There was a brutal double-whammy of an assault on American labor last week. And what with the torture report and Wall Street once again putting taxpayers on the hook for its greedy bets, hardly anyone noticed.

Whammy Number One: a bill allowing multi-employer pension funds to unilaterally cut the benefits of 1.5 million retirees was sneakily tucked into the Cromnibus Bill. This legislation, co-sponsored by a "liberal" Democrat and a Republican, paves the way for the immediate evisceration, at employer will, of the benefits of 1.5 million current retirees and tens of millions of future pensioners. These workers will not even be allowed to sue. It's a done deal.

Whammy Number Two: In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Amazon warehouse temps don't deserve to be paid for the roughly half-hour per working day that they are forced to remain on the premises to undergo anti-theft body searches. The Obama administration fought hard for Scrooge, and Scrooge won. Besides being anti-labor, this odious ruling also falls neatly into the "pre-crime" rationale for the Surveillance State spying on American citizens. Not only are you presumed guilty for merely trying to live, but the highest court has effectively criminalized labor itself. The unanimous ruling has essentially paved the way for the workplace to become a jail, the boss to become the warden, and for the establishment to create a new tier of work: that of virtual enslavement. The ruling is mission-creep, plutocracy-style.

The pension plan-gutting (Whammy #1) is a double-whammy in and of itself, because the precarious worker-funded retirement plans now on the chopping block were made that way by the very Wall Street malfeasance which is again being handsomely rewarded and encouraged by the Obama White House and both parties in Congress.  As David Sirota writes in the International Business Times, this measure in the Cromnibus amounts to "the most consequential change to retirement policy in the United States since the passage of landmark pension legislation 40 years ago. Altering the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act to permit benefit cuts could prompt a slew of efforts to chip away at formerly untouchable guarantees of income to millions of retirees."
Lawmakers pushing to allow benefit cuts are citing the example of the $18.7 billion Teamsters' Central States Fund, which has 410,000 members and is the nation’s second-largest multiemployer pension plan. There’s an estimated $22 billion gap between assets in the Central States Fund and promised benefits to the system’s current and future retirees -- a shortfall that legislators point to as a rationale to pass a new law permitting multiemployer plans to slash promised retirement benefits.

“We have to do something to allow these plans to make the corrections and adjustments they need to keep these plans viable,” said Democratic Rep. George Miller in pushing the plan.
But critics of the provisions say the plight of the Central States Fund is not a cautionary tale about unsustainable benefits but an example of Wall Street mismanagement. They note that Central States is the only major private pension fund where all the discretionary investment decisions are made by financial firms rather than by the fund’s board. Roughly a third of the pension system’s shortfalls -- or almost $9 billion -- can be traced to investment losses accrued during the financial industry’s 2008 collapse. Those losses were in addition to more than $250 million in fees paid by the plan to financial firms in just the last 5 years.

Many pension funds followed strategies that involved high fees for Wall Street companies while producing “financial returns that trailed plain vanilla investment strategies,” said Jay Youngdahl, a fellow with the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University. Central States appears to be a prime example, he said. “Before cutting benefits, we need to examine what exactly has happened.”
The pension funds controlled by Goldman Sachs alone lost more than a third of their value in the 2008 meltdown. Had this criminal banking cartel behaved itself and not gambled with union money, the funds would now be flush with cash and earning enough interest to keep the workers who paid into them in relatively comfortable retirements. Not only are the banks not being forced pay compensation to their victims, they continue to make obscene profits. CEO Lloyd Blankfein roams free, stuffing his own pockets as well as those of his political enablers in Congress and the White House.

Now we come to Whammy #2 -- the plight of the low-wage warehouse workers, who don't even have a pension fund that Wall Street can loot. Therefore, the masters of the universe are doing the next best thing: they're robbing employees of their time and their dignity.

The workers are not even employed directly by Amazon, but by the ironically-named Integrity Staffing Solutions. The case gives a whole new meaning to the word "Temp" and "workplace" (plantation). It also gives a whole new meaning to the argument that we have to elect a Democrat to save the Supreme Court from right-wing hacks. A Democratic administration actually urged its own black-robed appointees to screw the workers in this case.

And boy, did they ever oblige -- unanimously. The Court ruled that because the body searches have nothing to do with actual work, they are not compensable. Being held against one's will does not contribute to the bottom line of the employer, so all's fair in profit and oppression. From David Hensel's blog:
In an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas, NV, workers for the temp agency Integrity Staffing Solutions have to go through a security screening at the end of each day for which workers are not paid. The process is meant to prevent theft by workers. Workers say waiting for the screening can take 25 minutes. Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, two of these workers, sued the temp agency for the pay they were denied. The question asked is whether the security screening (and thus waiting for it) is an integral part of the principle activities for workers – should they be paid for the time spent in them?
The Court’s decision focused on what “integral and indispensable” work would be: it has to be absolutely central to why the workers were hired in the first place and a key part of completing that job.

"An activity is therefore integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities."
In her concurring opinion reversing a lower court ruling, "liberal" Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the forced security screenings were simply part of the exiting procedure, comparable to showering or waiting in line for a paycheck, and therefore not part of official work duties for which the plaintiffs were hired. Being criminalized by one's boss falls outside the category of labor and therefore can't be paid.

Wall Street crime pays.

Worker criminalization does not.

 In other words, Kafka has infiltrated the Supreme Court to allow a cheapskate version of Orwell's Big Brother to infiltrate the American workplace. 

(Illustrations courtesy of Kafka; Precariat courtesy of the American Plutocracy)
 The freedom to search and screen employees at no cost to the boss? You might call this latest New Abnormal in the age of unfettered hypercapitalism the "Enhanced Clocking-Out Technique".

The working class has been transformed into a post-2008 sub-underclass called the Precariat: officially defined as being only a meager paycheck or retirement benefit away from outright destitution. Even people lucky enough to have jobs are never allowed to forget that there are plenty more people waiting outside, willing to be searched, suspected, and oppressed for even lower wages and fewer benefits. It's how the plutocracy's Divide and Conquer agenda works.   

Friday, December 12, 2014

House Passes Torture Bill

(Update, 12/14: Make that the entire Congress. A link to the gory details is below.)

They come not to abolish pain, but to inflict even more of it.

Congress just held its annual holiday party for its high-rolling donors. This year's cutesy theme  was The Cromnibus That Stole Christmas. Yet again, they reprised their Scrooge role, robbing the poor and giving to the rich. And boy, were they ever sneaky about it this time around. As the whole world was reeling over revelations that Torture R Us, our leaders hastily wrapped up an Economy-sized giant rectal feeding tube in shiny paper, bestowed it upon a reeling public, and told us to "crom" it up our asses. They robbed pension funds, they defanged an already toothless Dodd-Frank, and they made political bribery even sleazier by increasing ten-fold the allowable individual donations to the Duopoly.

And then the "People's House" packed it in and started going home for Christmas to collect more spoils from their grateful political donors, who should be cheery that their outsized clout has once again put taxpayers on the hook for the risky bets guaranteed to cause another financial implosion sooner or later. The upper-crusty Senate is expected to rubber-stamp the deal shortly*, in order to continue the beatings and to beat the get-out-of-town rush.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who only a year ago was urging her Democratic caucus to "embrace the suck" by throwing millions of long-term unemployed under the bus so as to keep the government humming, pivoted back to full populist mode yesterday, trying to outdo Elizabeth Warren in the anti-bankster rhetoric department.

 Barack Obama, practicing for his upcoming star turn as post-Clinton triangulator, played the part of the Uncloseted Republican, going into full court press for Wall Street. He rallied his whole cabinet of Citigroup lobbyists to twist the same arms that had so lately fiercely acquiesced to Citigroup's dictating of the actual bill. Once you've put out for Wall Street, it gets increasingly hard to say No to Wall Street.

It was Good Cop-Bad Cop Kabuki theater at its most nauseating.

The mainstream media, though, are cheering because it was essentially a very good show, chock-full of suspense and identity politics. The New York Times has this glowing review:
The House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package on Thursday that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and the disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections.
 The accord was reached just hours before the midnight deadline, in a 219-206 vote, amid the last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of Congress’s most polarized — and least productive — eras. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days.
 The split in the Democratic Party dramatically burst into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped fuel the Great Recession. She spoke on the House floor in the early afternoon, expressing her strong opposition to the bill.
 As much as I believe that Pelosi's impassioned speech was cynically timed to provide some staged Shakespearean conflict with the paramour (Obama) who then publicly spurned her, for the Times to characterize the Democrats' new-found populism as "disarray" is a bit rich. The Gray Lady apparently likes her little marital spats to be decorous. The Gray Lady has reduced the shoving of a giant torture tube up America's butt to nothing but a little bickering among friends.
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were pressed to make a furious round of phone calls to try to persuade wavering Democrats, while House Speaker John A. Boehner worked to get more Republican votes.
The public support of the sweeping spending bill by the White House — which came just as Ms. Pelosi was making her speech on the House floor opposing it — was a rare public break with the minority leader and infuriated many of her loyalists.
Infuriated loyalists make the perfect targets for new rounds of Democratic fund-raising appeals. "Embracing the suck" cost them the mid-terms, so now it's back to the pretend-populism cycle again. I'm already getting emails urging me to show my solidarity with multimillionaire Nancy by throwing them some cash.
In a more than three-hour, closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Thursday night, many of the party’s more liberal members tried to rally support against the bill. The moment, they said, was one of conscience, and a chance for Democrats to demonstrate their allegiance with the middle class.
“We’ve got to stand up for principle at some point, or they’re going to kick us even more next year when they have a bigger majority,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. “They know we will stand our ground on principle in the future and not roll us so easily again.
Standing their ground is a little late, but at least it was a "chance for Democrats" to pander to the base by pretending to be on their side. It was an "opportunity" for them to be seen as pro-middle class, even though it was only a year ago that they joined with the GOP to impoverish millions of jobless people and compromise over cuts to the food stamp program. Those were the days when they thought they could win the mid-terms by simply out-fundraising the Republicans. They won't be rolled so easily again. Because veering to the right and openly rolling the American people comes with a price.
In an emergency gathering, Democrats also expressed anger at Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, at what they saw as the president’s undercutting of Ms. Pelosi and other progressives by coming out in support of the deal so early in the day. But Ms. Pelosi ultimately gave her members the freedom to vote how they wanted. “I’m giving you the leverage to do what you have to do,” she said. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”
She showed them, all right. Because it was a show. She dog-whistled as much when she told them to go ahead and vote for their Wall Street donors if that's what they needed to do. Moreover, the fix was already in, so a "nay" vote would look good on paper, if not in reality. Pelosi is like the abused wife who tells her beater that next time, she'll call the cops. So there.
The final vote was a blow to Ms. Pelosi, the liberal wing of the party and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who led the charge against the Dodd-Frank rollback. Mr. Boehner built a coalition of 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats, a rare achievement for a Congress that has often operated along strict party lines. Congress also passed a two-day funding measure to give the Senate time to pass the legislation.
This is the part where "the base" gets all riled up and their wallets get all opened up. And the bipartisan vote is anything but "rare." It is, in fact, quite common and well done to a crisp. When it comes to funding wars, the surveillance state, the banks and the corporate welfare queens, these clowns are always reaching across the aisle and slapping each other on the back while they slap the rest of us upside the head.

* The final vote tally is here

And here's my published comment to a piece by Gail Collins, suggesting that we discuss the Cromnibus at our weekend holiday dinner parties:  
We don't need a dinner party to discuss the Cromnibus from Hell. Who has the appetite? What this occasion demands is a national wake, because we're already spectators at our own funeral.
That Wall Street and billionaires own the government is a given. But our "reps" aren't even bothering to pretend any more. To me, the cruelest part of this plutocratic manifesto is that it allows multi-employer pension plans to slash the benefits of 1.5 million retirees. The irony is that many of these endangered pension plans were made that way by the same reckless Wall Street Casino behavior that Congress and the White House now want to restore and reward. Instead of another Glass-Steagall Act, the bad guys get richer and the workers get screwed.
The politicians we elect to represent us couldn't make their allegiance any plainer if they rubbed our noses in their effluent.
 What a week to be an American citizen. First we learn about the torture done in our names to people in other countries. Then we learn that even more economic torture will be foisted upon us.
We call it torture -- our leaders call it patriotism. We call it graft and corruption. They call it compromise and a victory for bipartisanship. We say we're mad as hell. They say we all have to have some skin in their rigged game, and to stop questing after unicorns.
They say change takes time and patience. We say that they'll continue in Gordon Gekko-Torquemada mode at their own peril.