Friday, February 28, 2014

Concern-Trolling the Bro People

The social justice charm offensive from an increasingly irrelevant White House continues, full hot-air steam ahead.

The latest episode in the president's tanking telenovela series ("I've Got a Pen and a Phone!") debuted yesterday with the Biblical title "I Am My Brother's Keeper." Aimed at paying lip service to the plight of minority youth, it managed to totally ignore the role that the American Ruling Class continues to play in causing and perpetuating institutional racism. The star-studded cast chosen by Barack Obama to headline his event told the real story before he even uttered his first maudlin word.

Because nothing inspires black and brown boys invited to the White House to pose as the extras in a PR stunt like the living specter of ex-Mayor Michael "Stop & Frisk" Bloomberg of New York and The World. His devotion to racial profiling is topped only by an ongoing partnership with Goldman Sachs, that places cynical bets on minority youth's  prison recidivism rates. And then there was Chicago's Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel, fresh from his marathon crusade to close more than 50 public schools in poor, predominately black and brown neighborhoods. And don't forget General Colin "Lying Our Way Into War" Powell to provide that sweet, tasty layer of Shock and Awe frosting on top of the inspirational cupcake.

In framing his Brother's Keeper remarks around his own self-portrait and substituting inspirational autobiography for actual policy, Obama simply once again confirmed what Adolph Reed, Jr. had just recently observed in an interview with Bill Moyers:

BILL MOYERS: I can imagine that if President Obama were sitting here talking with you or you were at the White House talking with him, he'd say, Adolph, I understand your diagnosis. But what you have to understand is that pragmatism can be and often is an effective agent or tool or weapon in the long-range struggle for social justice.
And I know you're impatient, I know you believe in this restructuring of society, but we're not going to get there with the wave of a wand. And it takes just as it did in the civil rights movement, a long time for me to get here to the White House, it's going to take a long time for this country to get where you would take it.
ADOLPH REED: Right. Oh, I am absolutely certain that he would say something like that. I admit that this is kind of treading maybe, into troublesome water, but among the reasons that I know Obama's type so well is, you know, I've been teaching at elite institutions for more than 30 years.
And that means that I've taught his cohort that came through Yale actually at the time that he was at, you know, Columbia and Harvard. And I recall an incident in a seminar in, you know, black American political thought with a young woman who was a senior who said something in the class. And I just blurted out that it seem, that the burden of what she said seemed to be that the whole purpose of this Civil Rights Movement was to make it possible for people like her to go to Yale and then to go to work in investment banking.
And she said unabashedly, well, yes, yes, and that's what I believe. And again, I didn't catch myself in time, so I just said to her, well, I wish somebody had told poor Viola Liuzzo, you know, before she left herself family in Michigan and got herself killed that that's what the punch line was going to be, because she might've stayed home to watch her kids grow up. And I think--
BILL MOYERS: This was the woman who on her own initiative went down during the civil rights struggle to Selma, Alabama to join in the fight for voting rights and equality, and was murdered.
ADOLPH REED: Right, exactly. I'm not prepared to accept as my metric of the extent of racial justice or victories of the struggles for racial justice, the election of a single individual to high office or appointment of a black individual to be corporate CEO.
And proving Reed's point, here are some of the look-at-me, inspirational money quotes from Obama's "Bro" speech the other day:
And the point was I could see myself in these young men.  And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe.  I had people who encouraged me -- not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders -- and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself.  And if I didn’t listen they said it again.  And if I didn’t listen they said it a third time. And they would give me second chances, and third chances.  They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.

Of course, in the case of Obama, the protections of class were at work. Race was not a factor in his expensive private school experience. And since the president is denying that there is even such a thing as the class war, his "doing what we can" is limited to free-market solutions. The rich shall not be taxed to pay for better education, enough food and improved shelter for black and brown youths and their struggling parents. The rich shall merely be asked, politely, to appear at photo-ops, to sit on task forces studying the plight of black and brown youths, to write reports to the president about the black and brown youths they are helping, to voluntarily agree to glance at the resumes of black and brown youths, to occasionally "mentor" and "empower" black and brown youths. All of this largesse is of course predicated upon black and brown youth being willing to take responsibility for their own miserable lives and pull themselves up by their own frayed bootstraps. Bro-keeping does have its limits.

Life may suck for black and brown youth, proclaims Obama, but as he humbly proclaims:
Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the opportunity gaps that marred our history for so long.  My presence is a testimony to that progress.  Across this country, in government, in business, in our military, in communities in every state we see extraordinary examples of African American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading, and building businesses, and making our country stronger.  Some of those role models who have defied the odds are with us here today -- the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells who are doing extraordinary things -- the Anthony Foxxes.
And let him make himself perfectly clear, as clear as a reassuring dog-whistle to Wall Street can be: Being your Brother's Keeper is not gonna cost you one red cent, plutocrats and political donors! Because, as Uncle Ronnie said, government is not the solution, it's the problem. As Bubba Clinton so valiantly chimed in, "The era of Big Government Is Over!"
Now, just to be clear -- “My Brother’s Keeper” is not some big, new government program.  In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.  We have manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending -- I've been traveling around the country for the last several weeks talking about what we need to do to grow the economy and expand opportunity for everybody.  And in the absence of some of those macroeconomic policies that create more good jobs and restore middle-class security, it’s going to be harder for everyone to make progress.  And for the last four years, we’ve been working through initiatives like Promise Zones to help break down the structural barriers -- from lack of transportation to substandard schools -- that afflict some of this country’s most impoverished counties, and we’ll continue to promote these efforts in urban and rural counties alike.
Moving at the hyper-capitalistic speed of light, traveling all over the blighted landscape, never stopping in one place long enough for people to pay attention or ask probing questions. It's a promise, it's a zone, it's a charter school, it's private profit at public expense.
We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it's not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life.  (Applause.)
Get married and lift yourselves out of the poverty created in large part by deregulated predatory financial markets. Otherwise, the de facto policy of incarcerating more black men in American prisons today than there were slaves on plantations will continue. America is the Brother's Jail Keeper. Personal responsibility trumps government malfeasance every single time. It's, like, totally Biblical. Puritan, Calvinistic, Cotton Mather Biblical. And that is why, out of the thousands and thousands of Bro People languishing in prison for minor drug offenses, President Mather righteously commuted the sentences of only a token eight of them. One of them, oh so coincidentally, just happened to be a cousin of the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. To whom was added the lucky, randomly-chosen seven.
So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We've all heard those arguments before.  But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works.  It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can't paralyze us.  And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.  
Gloss over all the official complicity and malfeasance and corruption. Protect the political criminal and financial class at all costs. Make them part of the pretend solution to the very social ills they had a starring role in creating. Look forward, not back, just like we did with the Bush-Cheney Chamber of Torture Horrors. In other words, keep maintaining the status quo of misery while we talk ourselves to (your) death.
So today after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies, and with local communities to implement proven solutions.
More neoliberal, meaningless words were never spoken in just one little paragraph. He is ordering the government to not spend any more money on social programs for brown and black youth. Like it really needed reminding.

*Update, 3/1: Here is contributor Pearl Volkov's "TimesPick" response to Charles Blow's column on Fathers and Sons:

Mr. Blow: Even having a father in the house, doesn't solve the problems his children face if he can't find a job, or has to work at a menial position due to lack of education, or keep his children healthy with proper nutrition or pay for medical help when necessary. Often, such fathers suffer from guilt and depression as a result, when they wish nothing more than being able to function fully. This is especially true among minority groups and I fault President Obama for refusing to deal with the needs of so many citizens. To me he does not represent the role models of the black men and women who marched for civil liberties, who try and fight injustice and neglect despite the obstacles. I am haunted by the hopeful, tearful faces of all those black voters who watched his inauguration with such joy in their eyes., He speaks of the sadness of fatherless families but I question his sincerity. He could and should have done so much to turn things in a different direction. He had the choices of the kind of people to surround and advise him, to organize citizens in work jobs badly needed instead of casting blame on the Republicans when he could have instituted constructive possibilities for people in need.
I appreciate your column Mr.Blow and your admirable attempt as a father to guide your children. But let us face facts and recognize that President Obama does not represent the kind of leadership black fathers can rely on. His recent speech was an insult to them.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Krugman Finally Yawns Out a TPP Column

Due to popular demand and thanks to its waning popularity in the world of rationalism, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has made it official: he considers the now-iffy TransPacific Partnership agreement to be "No Big Deal."

Let's face it. If Krugman told the truth and announced that the TPP is a fascist coup in the making, he would no longer be invited to pose as the token liberal on the cable shows sponsored by the same entities who stand to vastly increase their already bloated wealth once this deal goes through. He might not even get his Times contract renewed, or be allowed to blog-post at will in the valuable cyberspace of Times World.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the good professor chose this week to finally sigh out his TPP column so he wouldn't have to write about the equally corrupt Federal Reserve characters whose pre-meltdown chat has just been published to wide disdain. Except, of course, at the New York 
Times, which greeted it with bemused acclaim. The grossly inept, and probably criminal malpractice of Ben Bernanke and Timmy Geithner in both orchestrating and covering up the worst financial catastrophe in modern history is treated by the Gray Lady as just one of those things that nobody could ever possibly have foreseen. Mike Whitney has a great takedown of the media-political complex mendacity at CounterPunch. Read it and you'll laugh hilariously, right through your tears of rage.

Meanwhile, back over at the TPP Apologists' Convention, Krugman can't resist taking a subtle dig at his hordes of usually fawning readers who'd been begging him for months, to no avail, to address the TPP in a column:
There’s a lot of hype about T.P.P., from both supporters and opponents. Supporters like to talk about the fact that the countries at the negotiating table comprise around 40 percent of the world economy, which they imply means that the agreement would be hugely significant. But trade among these players is already fairly free, so the T.P.P. wouldn’t make that much difference.
Meanwhile, opponents portray the T.P.P. as a huge plot, suggesting that it would destroy national sovereignty and transfer all the power to corporations. This, too, is hugely overblown. Corporate interests would get somewhat more ability to seek legal recourse against government actions, but, no, the Obama administration isn’t secretly bargaining away democracy.
My response:
 Why is Obama pushing the TPP? Follow the money.
As Lee Fang of "The Nation" reveals, the administration's trade negotiators have been rewarded handsomely by their erstwhile employers. Stefan Selig, appointed undersecretary of international trade, got a friendly $9 million on his way out of Bank of America's revolving door. Michael Froman, late of Citigroup, received a $4 million bonus as he "quit" in order to become chief TPP negotiator.
The banks and other interested plutocratic parties are all allowed to see what's in the proposal. But Congress is not. The American people are not. Therefore, it would be irrational of us not to suspect that a nefarious plot is afoot.
If it's done under cover of darkness, it's not democratic. And last I heard, we were still (barely) a democracy.
Our suspicions are not "overblown." Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that the TPP would seriously de-fang already pathetic financial regulations. It would allow Big Tobacco to sue countries trying to regulate its product, thus contributing to untold misery and death in third world countries. And then there's the insatiable greed of Big Pharma, striving to keep its life-saving drugs patented into perpetuity and kept out of the reach of the sickest people of the poorest countries needing them the most.
And when they tell you TPP is dead, don't believe it. Gridlock has this weird tendency to resolve itself in back rooms, once the prevaricating pols have postured and won back their precious seats.
As of this writing, there were only five other reader comments posted. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, I especially liked this one from Cheryl Lans of "Anywhere" (I think she is from Canada):
Professor Krugman demonstrates the behaviour that pushes moderates to become activists. Scientists say no big deal about how they treat lab animals so activists become extremists. Economists say no big deal about employers bringing in low wage, exploitable workers to undermine union workers so conservatives join far right parties. Now the Green Party says that the TPP allows foreign investors and corporations to sue nations if any level of government passes laws that reduce their profits or adversely affect their businesses - this would include environmental or health protection laws. Most people would consider this a big deal but Professor Krugman looks at the patent implications instead. I think that any government negotiating such a deal, in secret because they know the public won't like it is not a democratic government and is treating the public and the environment with contempt. Rule by corporations has a name, and that name is not democracy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

At Work in the Fields of the Lord

Without a trace of irony, President Obama last night urged his unpaid health insurance sales force to also keep fighting for a federal minimum wage:
“We’re going to make a big push these last few weeks,” Obama told OFA volunteers and officials. “I can talk, my team can talk here in Washington, but it’s not going to make as much of a difference as if you are out there making the case. The work you’re doing is God’s work. It is hard work.”
Work that neither needs nor deserves a paycheck or a stipend, apparently. Working for the Big Guy is its own reward. As you go door-to-door, selling Obamacare insurance product to complete strangers at your own peril and at your own expense, you are simply following in the footsteps of Lloyd Blankfein. He, too, does God's Work as CEO of Goldman Sachs. Just imagine the soothing drops of heavenly beneficence trickling down your back as you work for the greater glory of the Market God within the delusional confines of a political personality cult.

On one recent day in Florida, Obama's insurance broker-missionaries amazingly managed to sign up 25 people out of the 2,000-plus prospects they visited. Put another way, they enjoy about the same rate of success at finding people at home as do Jehovah's Witnesses. From the New York Times:
 Such are the limits of microtargeting the uninsured as groups supporting the Obama administration take to the streets on behalf of the president’s most important domestic initiative. The nationwide effort is modeled on Mr. Obama’s successful voter turnout machines in 2008 and 2012, but in this case the task of finding Americans without health insurance and signing them up is a painfully slow grind.

But hold on a second. I wasn't being totally fair when I implied that our president is cynically exploiting a bunch of fanatical serfs for his own political gain. This is Sweepstakes USA, after all, so there are a few carefully selected lucky duckies in the Obamacare church sales force getting actual paychecks:
The campaign is staffed by organizations deploying thousands of paid and volunteer canvassers across the country. Planned Parenthood, one of the most aggressive groups, has raised millions of dollars for the effort. It is paying about 400 workers like Ms. Morwin $12 an hour. They are knocking on an average of 18,000 doors a day in eight states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Enroll America, a nonprofit group that is trying to expand the health care rolls, has hired 266 people and recruited 14,000 volunteers to not only canvass neighborhoods but also make calls at phone banks and host events at community colleges in 11 states. The group has also spent $7 million to advertise on the Internet.
The efforts are important for Mr. Obama, who has been damaged politically by the initial failures of his health care website. Now, with finally working, his administration and outside supporters are racing to meet their goal of signing up seven million people by March 31. By the end of January, nearly 3.3 million people had enrolled. To the canvassers, at least, the original goal seems a long way off.
Two hundred sixty-six paid employees out of 14,000 unpaid proselytizers? I guess it never occurred to the officials running Sweepstakes USA that they could help solve the unemployment crisis by training people to be insurance brokers and then paying them an actual living wage as they pound the pavement for Market God. Instead, it's all about rallying around a "damaged" president, and matching each Republican anecdotal Obamacare failure story with any equally poignant Democratic anecdotal success story. Every lottery, after all, must have winners and losers.

And 40 million-plus uninsured Americans gaze longingly from afar at the lucky six or nine million in line to eventually win a health insurance admission card. "You gotta be in it to win it!" is the promise, but not the guarantee. And when they tell you that all you need is a marketplace and a dream.... well, that depends on your locale as well as on your bank account. Restrictions do apply, especially if you're a poor working person living in a red state like Florida. Then the odds are definitely stacked against both you and that well-meaning volunteer knocking at your door.   

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sweepstakes USA

Life in these hyper-capitalistic United States is like a perverse retelling of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. In the revised version, everybody must get stoned. That piece of paper getting plucked from the box? Now it contains many doomed names instead of just the one.

The game is as rigged as ever, and with so many losers getting selected for sacrifice to the Free Market god, the carnival barkers and lottery officials of the Feudal States of America have to come up with ever more novel ways to keep the public conned and complacent. People must be made to feel that they still have a fighting chance to avoid annihilation in the face of the worst wealth disparity since the Gilded Age.

The Powers That Be have to hide the real Lottery behind a whole slew of fake lotteries.

Since the income gap was artificially created in the first place by the perverse policies that deregulated capitalism and allowed for the household wealth of a nation to flow to those at the very top, so must the gap be made to seem to diminish through more sleight of hand and artifice.

They've devised all new games of chance to substitute for a universal safety net of social insurance programs common in democratic societies. We are invited to enter, not so much to win, but for a chance to simply survive. And if we lose, as lose we invariably will, we can still gaze from afar at the few lucky duckies and revel in their isolated victories. Or more accurately, aspirational victories. Because even after they are carefully selected, they are forgotten in the official haste to move on to the next contest, and the next, and the next. In order to be effective, predation disguised as beneficence has got to be lightning-fast.

Since it's neoliberalism rather than democracy at work here in the Homeland,  these contests are  euphemistically called public-private partnerships, or private initiatives funded by taxpayers. Or, corporate welfare at taxpayer expense. Or, if you really want to be blunt -- theft.

Leading the corporate charm offensive in the Grift Sweepstakes is none other than Barack Obama, our carnival barker-in-chief.  Only last month, he picked five lucky poverty pockets in the blighted American landscape to become exploited trickle-down "Promise Zones" plantations. And tomorrow, he'll be announcing that Illinois and Michigan have been selected as the latest "winners" in yet another contest.The lucky duckies whose names got picked out of the Military-Industrial Complex Survivors' Box are mighty excited. The news release is a  feast of hyperbole, designed to rev up the proles into an orgasm of free market fervor:
Top politicians in Illinois joined local leaders in Michigan in trumpeting as a coup news that their states have landed a part in what they consider a revolutionary effort to boost manufacturing innovation, seeded by $140 million from federal taxpayers.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the weekend announced Chicago's selection as eventual home to the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute touted last month in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. A second institute will be located in Canton, Michigan, near Detroit.
Obama, a Chicagoan, is expected to officially announce the $320 million initiative Tuesday at the White House. The Pentagon is contributing $70 million to each of the Illinois and Michigan sites, with the remainder being contributed by states, including $16 million from Illinois, and outside interests that include corporations and universities.

It's all there, folks! It's a coup, it's a revolution, it's innovative, it's an initiative, it's a joint effort by the Eternal War State, the Corporate Gods and their corporatized schools.  But, but, but.....
It was not immediately clear Sunday how many jobs may be created by the initiatives or when those regional hubs could begin work.
But, but, but:
The initiative's Chicago prong bound for the city's Goose Island will push high-tech digital manufacturing and design under the premise that virtual environments may supplant drafting tables as keys to innovation. Illinois officials insisted that lab, led by nonprofit UI Labs, will be the nation's flagship research institute in digital manufacturing, ostensibly bolstering the Defense Department's efficiencies along the way.
"This solidifies Chicago's place as the epicenter of the digital manufacturing revolution that will create thousands of jobs here and make our city the place where the greatest 21st-century innovations are born," Emanuel said. "This cutting-edge digital lab will ensure that the City of Big Shoulders remains the City of Big Discoveries for years to come."
Durbin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, added that the initiative "has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing."
As you can see from the propaganda, although the Great American Lottery always has winners, actually collecting the prize is a whole different ballgame. They're counting on the "folks" not having the initiative to bother checking back and checking up on whether the innovation is real after the money is pocketed, or whether it's just eternally eventual. Or as ruthlessly efficient as the Pentagon's drones.

When I read that Michelle Obama had visited New York last week for a program called "Taking Back the Streets," for a second I thought she'd gone rogue and joined an Occupy encampment. No such luck. I should have known that she was simply promoting bottled designer water labeled with art work produced (for free,of course) by children living in the Income Disparity Capital of the World. It was a lousy commercial within a contest beneath a Lottery disguised as a social movement. Again. The free tap water may be bottled (at a fancy $1.50 a hit) but the message was definitely canned. Do teenage girls living in the Income Disparity Capital of the World really talk like this? --
“Growing up in New York City I got to see New York’s famous graffiti and street art every day,” 13-year-old Sophia Rose Stewart-Chapman told the first lady. “Today, I often feel bombarded by images that can be confusing or encourage poor decision making...It is so important for youth to be inspired by the power of art and this art is creating such an important message. By making drinking water cool, I’m learning that young people just like me can take control of our health.”
Empowered, yet unpaid. It's the American way. But wait. In this case, it doesn't matter if the student artists shilling tap water in designer bottles get paid or not, because they attend the $37,500-a-year Little Red (private) Schoolhouse in New York City. (scholarships available to keep it neoliberally diverse, of course.) Their "value-added community service" project will be just the thing for their Ivy League applications in a couple of years.

Of course, I shouldn't just be picking on multimillionaires like Barack and Michelle, or Rahm, or Dick. Because the Great American Lottery is a joint production of the fabulously wealthy billionaire CEOs of the private sector, those commanding generals in the Class War now trying to recast themselves as philanthropists in order to prevent a real, bottom-up revolution.

Take Conde-Nast, for example.  As Jim Romanesko explains, this publishing empire catering to the rich and famous was rightly castigated last year for ditching their entire crew of unpaid interns rather than be forced to pay them an actual wage. To make up for that public relations debacle, they're now inviting you to enter for a chance to win $50,000 for doing their scut work for them.

By their publications you shall know them: Self, Lucky, Vanity Fair.

And then there's our old friend Comcast, more anxious than ever to transform its image from 21st Century robber baron into Social Welfare champion.... making it all that much easier for its paid-for pals in the Oval Office, Justice Department and Congress to approve its takeover of Time Warner Cable. What better way for Comcast to gain control of the Internet and Everything than by sponsoring lotteries and picking out a few lucky duckies for the vicarious aspirational pleasure of its intended victims?

In one such venture, Comcast has invested a relatively meager (for it) $20 million for minority entrepreneurs to compete for "accelerated startup" funding in its DreamIt subsidiary. So far, they've funded such "catalysts" as a dating site, a homework assistance site, a travel site, and a recipe site. Interested in applying for money from Comcast? Well, of course, the possibility of winning comes with a big But.  Here's the first thing you learn in this version of Lottery USA:
Before we talk about why you should apply to DreamIt as an individual, let’s talk about why you should NOT apply.
First, you will be working your butt off for very little money. Second, there is no guarantee that the company you work with will succeed. Third, even if the company does succeed, there’s no guarantee that you will have a long-term opportunity to stay at the company.
Still reading? Then let’s talk about why you SHOULD apply. The company very well may succeed, and it may succeed in a big way. You will learn a lot and have a blast. You will have the opportunity to impress people who can help you regardless of where your personal path leads. You will have lifelong memories and the opportunity to become one of the many successful entrepreneurs who waxes nostalgic about the early days (and forgets the angst, sleep deprivation, and emotional spikes and dives).

Poverty can be fun. You have nothing left to lose, after all. You are so screwed. You have to be in it to win it. You have only 12 weeks without sleep to succeed or fail.  And if you DreamIt, Comcast will come in a big way, all the way to approval as the biggest monopoly in the Feudal States of America.... because they gave diverse minority folks like you an ephemeral ladder of opportunity.

Bootstraps, everybody! Bootstraps!

Your future is only a click away. 

Update: Of course, the biggest P3 (Public Private Partnership) monstrosity of them all is the Affordable Care Act.Three million people out of at least 47 million uninsured people have signed up so far. The other 44 million gaze longingly from afar, hoping against hope that someday, they too will live to become insured before they die. And Paul Krugman has written his umpteenth column defending this kludge against the silly imprecations of the Republican Party. Sardonicky contributor Pearl Volkov wrote this excellent (TimesPick!) riposte:
Dr.Krugman: Those of us who live in Canada and receive medical care as citizens or permanent residents, simply cannot understand why you keep supporting Obamacare and its controversial complications. There should be none. Proper care for all citizens is only possible if progressive taxation is occurring and health provision regulated and supervised by the proper Health Department of the government. As a result, why aren't you fighting for fairer taxation so that a bill in Congress calling for single payer national coverage is not waiting to be noticed?
If you bother to read the statistics of costs, quality of care, fairness of its provision with no ties to private insurers or employers, you will be able to comprehend that you are barking up the wrong tree on this issue.
The main concern is that the health of U.S. citizens is at a lower level and quality of life as a result of substitutions like Obamacare even if some of its snags work out.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yank That Chain

I'm confused. How can President Obama claim that he is officially flushing his chained CPI method of starving old people but at the same time promise that, if the Republicans get hungry enough, he'll gladly snake his austerity plan right back out of the toilet? And that he'll place millions of already discarded, partially digested human carcasses right back on the dining table for the further delectation of the plutocrats?

 From AP:
Obama is scrapping his previous offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefit programs. That idea had been a central component of his long-term debt-reduction strategy, even though it was considered odious by many Democrats.
While (Deputy Press Sec. Josh) Earnest and other officials said that trims in benefit cost-of-living adjustments remain on the table should Republicans choose to bargain, Democrats cheered the decision to keep them out of the budget.
"I applaud President Obama for his important decision to protect Social Security," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who last week organized a letter signed by himself and 15 Senate Democrats calling on the president to refrain from benefit cuts in his budget. "With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we cannot afford to make life even more difficult for seniors and some of the most vulnerable people in America."
Too bad the allegedly socialist Bernie didn't also demand that Social Security benefits  be increased so that older people and other vulnerables won't have to choose between heating and eating. Too bad he didn't demand that the contribution cap on FICA taxes be scrapped so that our great social insurance program will remain solvent into perpetuity. Maintaining the status quo of ordinary people clinging to life by the skin of their teeth is about the best we can hope for in the Feudal States of America.

Meanwhile, here's my comment to Paul Krugman's latest column, about the woefully tragic Stimulus of 2009:

 When our compromised leaders swallowed the poison pill of austerity, it acted upon them like an aphrodisiac. The fiscal solution of inflicting pain on the masses while enriching the financial miscreants beyond their wildest dreams is an addiction they just can't quit. Deficit reduction is now entrenched in their very DNA. And it's killing us.
The one antidote to their deficit disease is the bloated military budget. Because when it comes to funding the war machine and spying on us, the sky's the limit.
But every domestic policy plan even minimally benefiting ordinary people is treated as a terrorist threat. It either has to be deficit neutral, or the poor must be robbed to pay for the poor. For the first time ever, both parties agreed that the ill-fated extension of jobless benefits required a pay-for. Even then, it was DOA.
On the White House website there are five reasons why we should love the food-stamp cutting Farm Bill, Guess what Number One is? It contributes to long-term deficit reduction!
When 16 senators successfully demanded that the president spare Social Security from the budgetary axe, they also praised him for reducing the deficit, even though SS doesn't contribute to the almighty deficit.
The subtext -- that austerity is a virtue -- survives. A grand bargain offer of cuts still stands, if only the GOP's sugar daddies agree to relinquish maybe .00000000000001% of their own wealth in order to "share the sacrifice" with starving people with no jobs.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Smells Like Elementary Neoliberal Spirit

Is this guy for real?
During a press conference Wednesday night in Mexico, Obama said it was not accurate to claim Democrats opposed the Pacific trade deal, despite both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently voicing objection to legislation that would grant the president fast-track authority to negotiate the agreement. 
 “There are elements in my party that oppose this trade deal,” Obama said. “There are elements of my party that opposed the South Korea free trade agreement, the Colombia free trade agreement and the Panama free trade agreement, all of which we passed with Democratic votes.”
The president said he told Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Pena Nieto that if negotiations bore “a good agreement” that the Obama Administration would “get this passed.”
"Elements," for purposes of his latest propaganda offensive, are the stubborn mules who do not, for the record, agree with Obama lest it harm Democrats' re-election chances. The president's casting the ultra-powerful Reid and Pelosi as fringe-dwellers and back-benchers is a new one, though. This intra-party good cop/bad cop routine is getting mighty interesting, and also mighty transparent. Follow the money if you can.... all the way to November, when the theatrics can stop and all the players can get down to the real back room wheeling and dealing.

Besides, it takes an Element to know one. As Machiavelli observed, "Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society."  

Obama, meanwhile, did the political version of an In N Out Burger, fleeing Mexico within mere hours, lest the stench of Nafta waft its way into popular memory.

So, despite forecasts that TPP is dead in the water, watch out for a change in the weather. Those disparate hot and cold Elements always seem to have a way of converging at the last minute into a perfect storm of corporate ecstasy.

Valerie Long-Tweedie, Sardonicky contributor from Australia, sends along this ominous note from SumOfUs, the global anti-TPP group:
Tony Abbott's trade minister is about to sign a secret, global pact to allow corporations to sue the Australian government for billions -- just for passing laws to protect our health or the environment.
The secret meeting in Singapore is happening next week. Tony Abbott wants us to believe the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is all about getting a better deal for ordinary Australians. But the truth is that it could end up being one of the biggest corporate power grabs in a generation.
Abbott and his cronies are refusing to make the deal public (although corporate lobbyists seem to be getting the inside track) -- making it hard to know just what's in the TPP. But leaks so far indicate this is bad news. That’s why Tony Abbott wants it to stay confidential -- he’d prefer to quietly sign away our rights without a big fuss.
Valerie smells a rat and a power play:
  It looks like the TPP is going ahead with or without being fast tracked through Congress. I thought it was too good to be true that it had stalled and was written off as dead. I have a feeling that those pushing the TPP will now go overseas, get signatories and then come back to Congress and say, "If the U.S. doesn't sign, we will be left out in the cold!" There is some being written about it in the Australian newspapers but Australians are a passive population. Their government has been taking good care of them since the 70's and they just assume their government will continue to work in their best interests - and that the minerals that are being mined at an alarming rate to pay for the safety net will last forever. I suspect that when the minerals start to run out, the government will get mean and ugly - just as it has in the States - and will make even more deals with the devil corporations.
I can see it now.... or more accurately, they can see it now, and we proles will be allowed to see it next fall, after it's already a done deal. I agree with Valerie's prediction. The words will be all too familiar: We couldn't leave poor President Obama twisting, twisting in the wind as the whole world laughed at his lame-duck ineptitude. If Singapore could do it, if the Australians caved, why can't the U S of A? Nobody likes a spoil-sport. Don't let a few low-wage American jobs be the enemy of the glorious trickle-down corporate coup! Corporations are people my friend, and Comcast is your Daddy.

Meanwhile, the charm offensive continues. U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman has been furiously making the rounds of the various "liberal" think tanks and interest groups, trying to herd the cattle into Obama's veal pen. So far, anyway, they're resisting such ripe Froman bullshit as:
"As a candidate for president, then-Senator Obama said he would renegotiate NAFTA, put labor and environmental standards at the core of trade agreements and make those standards enforceable like any commercial commitment. That’s exactly what we’re doing in TPP."
Um... environmental standards would actually be taking a huge hit from the Obama administration, judging from the release last month of the environmental chapter of the secret proposed pact. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange calls it "noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in 'environmental' goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise....The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism."

And, of course, continue following the money. On the heels of the leaked anti-environment, anti-indigenous people offal in the document comes news that Obama's chief TPP negotiators have been the recipients of much largesse from the cabal of too big to fail/jail banks.

Froman himself, according to investigative journalist Lee Fang, raked in over $4 million in bonus exit payments from Citigroup as he left to work for the Obama administration. Paying employees who leave the private sector to work for the government is standard big business practice. And it's also standard big business practice for Froman and other recipients of legal bribes to humble-brag about what a huge proportion of the booty they're donating to the charities of their choice. Not for tax deducting purposes, mind you. It's for the public relations. Under the terms of the TPP, Citigroup would profit big-time, joining other multinationals in being able to sue sovereign governments for make-believe losses should actual citizens try to get in the way of said profits and human capital extraction.

So, the next time somebody tells you the TPP is dead, don't believe it for a minute. It is, rather, undead. Like a zombie, TPP will keep walking the earth, destroying everything in its path unless we, its intended victims, stay vigilant and keep it at bay. Public awareness and public engagement are our weapons against the scourge of unfettered capitalism.

Follow the money, follow the stench, and let the sunshine in.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Educational Atrocities 101

If you thought the heinous practice of institutional child abuse ended when Charles Dickens exposed it in his novels, think again. Not only has it survived through the centuries, it's now enjoying something of a renaissance right here in the New Feudal States of America.

You've heard of the nefarious School-to-Prison Pipeline. But how about that gateway intramural system preceding it, where jail cells within the schools have become almost as ubiquitous as classrooms? In educational Newspeak, they are euphemistically called "Scream Rooms." They are gulags within gulags.

You might think that handcuffing children and locking them up in tiny isolation chambers would be rare, or at least limited to Texas and other law-and-order "red" states. But it's prevalent, and growing throughout the country, even in small, liberal Connecticut. As Senator Chris Murphy learned, there are 30,000 instances of physically restraining pupils or placing them in padded rooms reported every single year in his state. And so, he has introduced legislation to ban the practice nationally.
“That way to deal with behavior just does not work. Actually kids don’t respond to that,” Murphy said in an interview with local news station WTIC. 
“There are just better ways to deal with behavioral issues than just locking kids up in padded rooms,” he said. 
The rooms are as small as 4’x4’ or 6’x6’, he said. 
Murphy said an overuse of restraint or seclusion could lead to mental and physical injury to children as well as to other children witnessing the practice.
A "disproportionate" number of the abused children have been black and Latino.( No surprise there, in a state just over the line from the "Stop & Frisk" capital of the world, where until recently, virtually every black and Latino man had been restrained by police at least once, simply by virtue of existing.) And 40% of the maltreated children have Autism. So much for the great American Race to the Top. The Core is more rotten than Common, it seems. When the kids balk at taking the corporate standardized tests administered by Mr. Gradgrind, then Mr. Squeers comes to the rescue to add a little incarceration to the indoctrination.

As an ABC News investigation found in 2012, no national standards exist for student discipline. Criminal statutes that ban unlawful imprisonment, assault, and terroristic threats are typically not enforced to protect helpless children against the adults in the room. Poorly trained school personnel in overcrowded and underfunded schools make up their own rules as they go along. At least 20 children have died as a result, many others severely injured, and an untold number both experiencing and witnessing the abuse are emotionally traumatized. And to their shock, parents have found that they often don't even have recourse in the court system.

The practice of meting out extreme remedies for fractious student behavior has long been rampant in schools for the developmentally disabled, and as those students became increasingly "mainstreamed" into public schools, so-called"normal" children also got caught up in the fray. Simply witnessing the restraint and isolation of their peers also has an untoward effect on the kids who do "behave."

Jessica Butler, an attorney and parent of a child with Autism, has written a report called How Safe is the Schoolhouse? -- a state-by-state analysis of pupil restraint and seclusion practices. Only 19 states have laws restricting such remedies for all students, and 32 have partial protections for students with disabilities. Only 12 states collect even minimal data on the use of restraint in schools. Some states have already taken steps to ban in-school isolation entirely. The five states with the worst records -- having no policies in place at all to protect children in school -- are New Jersey (hello, Chris Christie), Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.

There seem to be little pockets of Kim Jung-un in the halls of Academe:
In 2012, a New York teenager with disabilities died in physical restraint.
Other incidents in the GAO report included very young elementary school children being placed in strangleholds,tethered to ropes, and restrained for long periods of time. One young girl was strapped into a miniature electric chair replica.
Bungee cords and duct tape were used to fasten children to furniture. Children endured broken limbs, bloody noses, bruises, and post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the restraints. A National Disability Rights Network report likewise found that students were strapped into chairs, restrained on the floor by multiple adults, held in arm locks and handcuffs, and restrained in other unsafe ways, with some incidents resulting in death, broken bones, and other injuries.
More recently, a 2013 Minnesota newspaper reported about the restraint of a boy with autism that interfered with his breathing, and of a 10-year-old who was held face down for nearly an hour for having a tantrum over a puzzle.
  The usual defense used by  school administrators when parents complain is that the discipline is only used as a last resort to protect an unruly child from harming herself or others:
 Daniel A. Domenech, who heads the American Association of School Administrators....  said the practice of restraining an out-of-control student is an unwelcome but essential part of keeping teachers and other students safe. And the vast majority of the time, he said, school officials are able to subdue a child without harm coming to anyone."What do they do when the child begins to hurt themselves or when they attack another child?" he asked. "Do they just stand there and watch? They don't. They intervene."
Domenech was simply echoing the sentiments of another famous educator, one Wackford Squeers, late of Dotheboys Hall, Yorkshire. When Charles Dickens invented Headmaster Squeers as one of the villains in Nicholas Nickleby, he acknowledged that his fictional depiction of a sadistic school administrator would probably be viewed as hyperbolic. But he was only scratching the surface of an institutional reality. Forced doses of castor oil substituted for food. Mental and physical disabilities were imposed, not just inborn. 

 Dickens's words in the preface could just as easily be applied to the entrenched abuse rampant in what purports to be our own modern, "progressive" American educational system.
Where imposture, ignorance, and brutal cupidity, are the stock in trade of a small body of men, and one is described by these characteristics, all his fellows will recognise something belonging to themselves, and each will have a misgiving that the portrait is his own.
"The Author's object in calling public attention to the system would be very imperfectly fulfilled, if he did not state now, in his own person, emphatically and earnestly, that Mr. Squeers and his school are faint and feeble pictures of an existing reality, purposely subdued and kept down lest they should be deemed impossible. That there are, upon record, trials at law in which damages have been sought as a poor recompense for lasting agonies and disfigurements inflicted upon children by the treatment of the master in these places, involving such offensive and foul details of neglect, cruelty, and disease, as no writer of fiction would have the boldness to imagine. And that, since he has been engaged upon these Adventures, he has received, from private quarters far beyond the reach of suspicion or distrust, accounts of atrocities, in the perpetration of which upon neglected or repudiated children, these schools have been the main instruments, very far exceeding any that appear in these pages."
It'll be interesting to see how far Chris Murphy's efforts to outlaw Scream Rooms progresses in the Senate. Will Ted Cruz perform a marathon filibuster to champion the benefits of handcuffing and isolating children while they're forced to listen to tapes of his recitation of Green Eggs and Ham? Will his GOP cohort suggest rewarding schools that perform well in the corporal punishment department and punishing those who don't use Tough Love by forcing teachers to arrest kids at gunpoint? Will they even suggest withholding food from pupils as an incentive to learning?

Oh, wait. They're already doing that in Salt Lake City. Forty kids had their school lunches taken away and thrown away in the garbage recently when their financially struggling parents fell behind on their payments. It's exactly the same thing that happened in Dickens' England when the tuition was late: starvation and incarceration.

 Will the the forces of capitalism once again trump human rights and organized labor?

Do American children have money or a lobby?

The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Culling of the American Herd

There was a mass outbreak of righteous indignation this week at the news that a Danish zoo had not only wantonly slaughtered a baby giraffe, it had fed the chopped-up remains to the lions. In full public view. In broad daylight. In front of the children.

News outlets just couldn't get enough of the spectacle, playing it over and over and over again, salaciously daring us to avert our eyes from the graphic content if we are sensitive viewers.... and above all, to get our precious children out of the room. CNN has run nine separate updates on the story so far this week. The shock, the outrage, the defense, the debate.... it's all there. No juicy angle, no pathetic tuft of adorable giraffe fur has escaped their discerning journalistic eye. It's Euthanasia! It's Eugenics! It's so.... Ewwww. And boy, does it sell. And stay tuned.... there may even be a second giraffe victim waiting in the wings for your appalled delectation.

Meanwhile, the recent report on the thousands of American humans being effectively condemned to untimely needless deaths has been met with a group shrug, if not a blind eye, by the Media-Political complex. No children are being sent from the room; no cable outlet is running constant loops of a middle-aged woman dying from treatable diabetes because some sleazy governor and legislature refused to expand Medicaid in their state. These stories are a dime a thousand-dozen, and the victims are usually not cute and cuddly with long eyelashes.

But let's call this out for what it is. It's Social Darwinism.The herd is being culled. "Excess genetic material" unable to pay cash for health insurance is being deliberately rooted out. It's no less inhumane or appalling than Marius the Giraffe being chopped into pieces and fed to the lions. The difference is that, as we're being ground up and served up to the predators of the plutocracy, we're told it's because we didn't work hard enough, or that our skills don't match the exacting technological demands of the Job Creators of the Future. Those who are not fit do not survive in this Land of Opportunity. Out of a population of 315 million, about 50 million of us are in immediate danger of being culled. Be it by having SNAP food assistance reduced to starvation levels, be it by losing a job or having unemployment benefits cut off by the bipartisan millionaires of Congress, be it by lack of basic health care.  No matter how you slice it, the results are the same: morbidity and mortality. One in six Americans is now listed by the Census Bureau as "officially poor." But the reality is far, far worse. Based on wage figures, the IRS estimates that fully half the people in the richest country on earth are living in poverty.

So, let's concentrate on just one aspect of the de facto policy of euthanasia as the solution currently being practiced in at least half the states of America. Dylan Scott of Talking Points Memo is one of the few journalists covering the orchestrated grisliness:
They projected that 423,000 fewer diabetics would receive medication to treat their disease. If opt-out states had expanded Medicaid, 659,000 women who are in need of mammograms and 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears would have become insured, the study found.
Most pundits, however (and that includes the estimable Paul Krugman) are still embroiled in the partisan nitpicking over the true meaning of a recent CBO report that estimates about a million people will now be free to quit their jobs and move because of the free market miracle of Obamacare. In his latest column, with its usual lambasting of Republicans and ignoring of complicit centrist Wall Street Democrats, he mulls the meaning of "dignity of work," and the constant insults  hurled at struggling people by the smarmy likes of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor:
On the whole, working Americans are better at appreciating their own worth than either the wealthy or conservative politicians are at showing them even minimal respect. Still, tens of millions of Americans know from experience that hard work isn’t enough to provide financial security or a decent education for their children, and many either couldn’t get health insurance or were desperately afraid of losing jobs that came with insurance until the Affordable Care Act kicked in last month. In the face of that kind of everyday struggle, talk about the dignity of work rings hollow.
So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities? How about assuring them that the essentials — health care, opportunity for their children, a minimal income — will be there even if their boss fires them or their jobs are shipped overseas?
Think about it: Has anything done as much to enhance the dignity of American seniors, to rescue them from the penury and dependence that were once so common among the elderly, as Social Security and Medicare? Inside the Beltway, fiscal scolds have turned “entitlements” into a bad word, but it’s precisely the fact that Americans are entitled to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare, no questions asked, that makes these programs so empowering and liberating.
The truth is that if you really care about the dignity and freedom of American workers, you should favor more, not fewer, entitlements, a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.
And you should, in particular, support and celebrate health reform. (my bold) Never mind all those claims that Obamacare is slavery; the reality is that the Affordable Care Act will empower millions of Americans, giving them exactly the kind of dignity and freedom politicians only pretend to love.
Obamacare is Dignity, Freedom is Strength. Health insurance for some people magically equates to health "reform." (that dreaded neo-liberal buzzword again.) Krugman basically rehashes an Obama speech here, even dutifully substituting "opportunity" for the newly-verboten "income equality". 

My response to Krugman: (due to the New York Times reader comment "character limit", it truncates what I just wrote in this blog-post. So I apologize for the redundancy)
 Social Security and Medicare are so successful because they're centrally and publicly administered. Since they're not out to make a quick profit off desperate people, they're reliable and cost-effective. And best of all, they eventually cover everybody -- if we're lucky to live so long.
But meanwhile, we feel abjectly grateful that the ACA will "empower" perhaps a third of our uninsured neighbors in their quest for medical treatment. Several million lucky duckies will now be able to "consume" health care. Only in America could medical treatment become perverted from a basic human right into Shopping and Freedom and Opportunity. If you work hard, that is, and "play by the rules."
Where's the outrage over the 30 million people who are being left out of the health insurance market sweepstakes?
All of America exploded in righteous indignation this week when a Danish zoo deliberately killed a giraffe to feed to the lions. But the recent Harvard/CUNY study projecting that as many as 17,000 people will needlessly die every year in the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid? That's been met with a collective yawn by the media-political complex.
What the free market ideologues are accomplishing is no less inhumane. They're Social Darwinists gleefully culling the herd, slashing unemployment insurance and food assistance with abandon, slicing us up into tender morsels for the plutocratic gluttons.
Why they haven't yet choked on their own venom is anybody's guess.
Krugman, besides his eerie silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate coup being stealthily engineered by Obama, persists in pretending that Obamacare is universal healthcare. He actually compares this privatized kludge to FDR's and LBJ's great social insurance programs. He also persists in the theory that Austerity is Dead, by dint of the fact that Wall Street billionaires are no longer openly agitating for a "grand bargain" of earned benefit cuts for their inferiors. Krugman chooses not to notice that Obama himself was still touting deficit reduction as recently as last week, as the thing to love most about the food stamp-cutting Farm Bill. Krugman should take a gander at Obama's own White House website. Bragging about pro-austerity measures past, present and hoped-for is still very much there, in all its digitized ignominy.

Joe Firestone of New Economic Perspectives is among those noticing Krugman's blind spot. The deficit hawks have seemingly gone away, he writes, because they've already gotten pretty much what they want: the shrinking of social programs and the shrinking of deficits. Austerity has already won:
Here’s CBO projecting deficits of 3.0% of GDP this fiscal year, followed by 2.6%, 2.8%, and 2.9% for fiscals 2015, 2016, and 2017. Those deficits are mostly smaller than Warren Buffett’s and the Eurozone’s favorite deficit target of 3.0%. They are the same too small deficit targets that have prevented the Eurozone’s PIIGS from responding effectively to the crash of 2008, and the prolonged depression and astronomical unemployment rates which have engulfed them since. When one considers that CBO’s projections are usually too conservative when it comes to projected deficits, so that the reality of these is likely to be smaller, as it has been regularly, for the past few years, then it’s even more apparent that Peter G. Peterson and his other austerian friends have gotten where they want to go for the time being.
Nor are there any other major influences in Washington, DC advocating higher deficits. Even “progressive” groups and politicians always talk about “pay fors” and offer 10 year deficit reduction plans that envision deficits averaging far less than the 3% target.
 The real slash-o-rama -- raising the Medicare and retirement ages and the chained CPI method of further immiserating already impoverished Social Security recipients --  can wait until after the 2014 midterms, when politicians will no longer have to pretend to be for the little guy. Republicans, Democrats -- all of them morph into born-again populists whenever their own jobs are on the line.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Day After the Day We Fought Back

Tens of thousands of people from all over the world took to the streets, the Internet, and the monitored phone lines yesterday to protest the Surveillance State. I am sorry to say that I was so busy fighting back against the atrocious Farm Bill and neoliberal doublespeak that I'd totally missed the international "Day We Fight Back."

But here's the good news. We can still fight back. Today, tomorrow, next month and next year. A website (here) set up for you to call or email your legislators is still operational. I know, because I clicked on the right buttons a day late this morning, and my message was sent to my congress critters. Not that it will do much good, but it still felt good. It's something.

Tens of thousands might seem like a lot of protesters, but their outrage is a mere whisper amidst the submissive roar of the 7 billion other complicit global souls for whom privacy is not only a lost right, but a state of being which is no longer even desirable.

As Henry A. Giroux puts it in his latest Truthout essay, Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State, we have more to fear from public apathy than we do from the evil machinations of the NSA:
Surveillance has become a growing feature of daily life. In fact, it is more appropriate to analyze the culture of surveillance, rather than address exclusively the violations committed by the corporate-surveillance state. In this instance, the surveillance and security state is one that not only listens, watches and gathers massive amounts of information through data mining necessary for identifying consumer populations but also acculturates the public into accepting the intrusion of surveillance technologies and privatized commodified values into all aspects of their lives. Personal information is willingly given over to social media and other corporate-based websites and gathered daily as people move from one targeted web site to the next across multiple screens and digital apparatuses. As Ariel Dorfman points out, “social media users gladly give up their liberty and privacy, invariably for the most benevolent of platitudes and reasons,” all the while endlessly shopping online and texting.7A This collecting of information might be most evident in the video cameras that inhabit every public space from the streets, commercial establishments and workplaces to the schools our children attend as well as in the myriad scanners placed at the entry points of airports, stores, sporting events and the like. 
Yet the most important transgression may not only be happening through the unwarranted watching, listening and collecting of information but also in a culture that normalizes surveillance by upping the pleasure quotient and enticements for consumers who use the new digital technologies and social networks to simulate false notions of community and to socialize young people into a culture of security and commodification in which their identities, values and desires are inextricably tied to a culture of private addictions, self-help and commodification.
Surveillance feeds on the related notions of fear and delusion. Authoritarianism in its contemporary manifestations, as evidenced so grippingly in Orwell's text, no longer depends on the raw displays of power but instead has become omniscient in a culture of control in which the most cherished notions of agency collapse into unabashed narcissistic exhibitions and confessions of the self, serving as willing fodder for the spying state. The self has become not simply the subject of surveillance but a willing participant and object. Operating off the assumption that some individuals will not willingly turn their private lives over to the spying state and corporations, the NSA and other intelligence agencies work hard to create a turnkey authoritarian state in which the "electronic self" becomes public property. Every space is now enclosed within the purview of an authoritarian society that attempts to govern the entirety of social life.
This is a chilling, insightful piece of writing. Read the whole thing. Then, fight back for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lambs to the Slaughter

Humanity to Barack Obama: Don't pee down our backs and tell us it's raining.

The president last week signed a nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill that, besides rewarding the ultra-rich, immediately cuts an average $100 a month from the food stamp stipends of nearly a million more people. Yet there he goes, traveling the country, claiming to be a champion of the oppressed. Look at the graphic put out by the White House. The most cherished aspect of the Farm Bill is that it "strengthens the economy" by reducing the deficit in the usual way: enriching the rich while immiserating the poor. So much for Income Inequality being the "challenging issue" of Obama's time. I think he meant that it's a challenge for him to hide the wealth gap by constructing a flimsy neoliberal "Opportunity Bridge" over it.

 And the media, bless their cold, cold hearts, are giving Obama the usual free pass for his marathon cruise down the Hypocrisy Highway. 

Paul Krugman is a case in point. Although he has previously railed against cuts to food assistance at a time when more people than ever are in need of it, he is now choosing to ignore the ignominious signing ceremony. He used his latest column space to once again elide the connivance of Obama and his Democratic toadies, and blast Republicans for "writing off" the unemployed.

My published response:
While the GOP is sadistically open in their disdain for struggling people, "centrist" Democrats try to keep their own complicity hidden behind their increasingly feeble "I feel your pain" platitudes.
For example, when the president signed the corporation-friendly Farm Bill last week, he effectively condemned almost a million more people -- the young, the disabled, the working poor, and the elderly -- to hunger. He put his imprimatur on an additional $8 billion in SNAP cuts. Yet, he had the chutzpah to call it a bipartisan victory! He suggested, with a straight face and with all apparent sincerity, that people can now use less money to buy more farm-fresh food! He even blustered on about deficit reduction, celebrating "common sense" reforms. (When politicians yack about common sense, you can rest assured that the commons will not benefit.)
He's euphemized income inequality into "the opportunity gap." Austerity is alive and well in both branches of the Money Party. Republicans hate you with a passion, Democrats love you to death. Corporate con artists get tax breaks and deferred prosecution agreements. And you get bupkis.
And so, when they flood my inbox with appeals for campaign donations in order to "make my voice heard" on the social ill du jour, I inform them that all my spare change is going to help my food bank. My long-term unemployed, retired, low-wage and disabled neighbors shouldn't have to choose between heating and eating in this long, hard, cold, cruel winter.
There is a woman in my town who, even though she herself is on disability and her 13-year-old car is falling apart, has made it her mission to drive around to the homes of needy neighbors to distribute the day-old bread that the local bakery is giving away for free. This past weekend, a bunch of high school kids held a food drive outside the Stop N Shop, asking emerging customers to donate just one item from their shopping carts for the rapidly depleting local food pantry. That's how bad it's getting in New York and many other areas of the country.

But Marie Antoinette's disembodied head must have been beaming and cackling from the grave last week at the spectacle of Obama signing the Farm Bill in Michigan. I'm including some highlights (or should I say storm-clouds) of his speech. Gratuitous overused neoliberal buzzwords, a/k/a soothing dog-whistles to Wall Street, are in bold:
 And today, thanks to your grit and your ingenuity and dogged determination, the American auto industry’s engines are roaring again and we are building the best cars in the world again.  And some plants are running three shifts around the clock -- something that nobody would have imagined just a few years ago.  (Applause.)
(And the auto union has been decimated and the wages have sunk, but the new CEO of GM is now getting paid the insane salary of $14 million a year. Using the tried and true flattery method, Obama goes on the immediate offensive. Cajole  the regular workers into feeling good by praising their grit. Make them believe that their toiling in sleep-deprived swing shifts for the benefit of the uber-rich is the patriotic thing to do. The workers of America, though not well-paid, are akin to noble heroic sled dogs, determined to carry the load over the frozen wastes of the corporate globe with nary a pause for food or rest. So stop your barking and forge ahead!)
 I just had lunch with Detroit’s new Mayor, Mike Duggan.  (Applause.)  He told me if there’s one thing that he wants everybody to know, it’s that Detroit is open for business.  And I have great confidence that he’s going to provide the leadership that we need.  (Applause.)  Really proud of him.  The point is we’ve all had to buckle downWe’ve all had to work hardWe’ve had to fight our way back these past five years.  And in a lot of ways, we are now better positioned for the 21st century than any other country on Earth.
(He gets applause for announcing that he ate lunch? So much neoliberal bunk in just one tiny paragraph. The new mayor replacing the jailed mayor has gotten the message and hastens to reassure Wall Street that his tragic city is wide open for capitalistic plunder. Obama's repetitive use of We manipulates the audience into believing that the rentiers extracting the resources and the victims being extracted are members of the same team. He tries to fool you into thinking the rich are "sacrificing" as much as you are. Thanks to the financial meltdown orchestrated by unprosecuted financiers, we are now better positioned to screw you over, because it's always easier for financial bullies to kick the little guy, the pensioner, the retired teacher, when they're already down.)
This morning, we learned that our businesses in the private sector created more than 140,000 jobs last month, adding up to about 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years.  (Applause.)  Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been since before I was first elected.  Companies across the country are saying they intend to hire even more folks in the months ahead.  And that’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.
(Nice try, Mr. Plutocratic Front Man. Officially, there are 10 million unemployed people in America, up from 6.8 million in 2007. One out of every six men of working age is jobless. There are three times as many long-term unemployed today than there were in 2006. As the World Socialist Website explains it, "these figures tell just part of the story, since they track only those who are actively looking for work. According to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a further 5.73 million 'missing workers' have dropped out of the labor force over the past five years for non-demographic reasons. If these missing workers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 9.9 percent.
"The true scale of the jobs deficit is indicated by the fact that the US economy had 866,000 fewer jobs last month than it had in January 2008, while the working-age population had increased by ten million people.")

Sounds more like a Breaking Bad year for America, if you ask me
And I’ve come here today to sign a bill that hopefully means folks in Washington feel the same way -- that instead of wasting time creating crises that impede the economy, we’re going to have a Congress that’s ready to spend some time creating new jobs and new opportunities, and positioning us for the future and making sure our young people can take advantage of that future.
And that’s important, because even though our economy has been growing for four years now, even though we’ve been adding jobs for four years now, what’s still true -- something that was true before the financial crisis, it’s still true today -- is that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are doing better than ever, but the average American’s wages, salaries, incomes haven’t risen in a very long time.  A lot of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by -- much less get ahead -- and that’s been true since long before the financial crisis and the Great Recession.
(I've said it before, and I'll say it again: heed Noam Chomsky, and run for the hills whenever you hear a politician utter the word folks. Obama uses the word in two different contexts. First, as a term to subtly denigrate you. You're just plain folks, instead of astute human beings. Second, he uses the term to soften up and humanize plunderers and miscreants -- such as, "the folks on Wall Street," and "the folks in Washington." George W. Bush, though, really took it too far that time he talked about "the terrorist folks."

But back to the above paragraph. This is the standard part of every Obama speech where the left side of his mouth seems to take over, and he pivots and appears to be talking to or debating with himself. We're booming back, but wait... we're not really booming back. He feels your pain, folks! He gets that you're suffering succotash, and that the One Percent is sucking it all up. Of course, even though he is overseeing the worst wealth disparity in American history, the trend started long, long, long before he himself became a Washington Folk.)
And so we’ve got to reverse those trends We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few.  We’ve got to restore the idea of opportunity for all people -- the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you came from, how you started out, what your last name is, you can make it if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility.  That’s the idea at the heart of this country. That’s what’s at stake right now.  That’s what we’ve got to work on.  (Applause.)
(We, we, we, all the way to the ideational, nonexistent Land of Opportunity where taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth are never mentioned. Again, with the free market gospel of "if you work hard and play by the rules, you too can dream of riches beyond your wildest imagination". He stresses the Randian power of the individual will, rather than the need for community and solidarity with your fellow human beings. Soothe the plutocrats, nip the idea of a resurgence of the Occupy movement right in the bud.)
 And that is why I could not be prouder of our leaders who are here today.  Debbie in particular, I could not be prouder of your own Debbie Stabenow, who has done just extraordinary work.  (Applause.)  We all love Debbie for a lot of reasons.  She’s been a huge champion of American manufacturing but really shepherded through this farm bill, which was a very challenging piece of business.  She worked with Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who I think was very constructive in this process.  We had Representatives Frank Lucas, a Republican, working with Collin Peterson, a Democrat.  We had a terrific contribution from our own Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who deserves a big round of applause.  (Applause.)
(Challenging and Constructive are Austerian code words for cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat who came up with the bright idea of cutting food stamps for people who also get extra heating assistance during the coldest winter in living memory, also receives more financial aid from Big Ag than any other senator. But here, she is hilariously cast by her Party Leader as the Tender Shepherd....omitting the X-rated part where the flock gets turned into lamb chops... or maybe even the dreaded giraffe meat.  

  Now here comes the comic relief part, where in inappropriately jocular fashion, Obama pivots to the real Nitty Gritty:
Now, despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers.  Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill.  It’s like a Swiss Army knife.  (Laughter.)  It’s like Mike Trout -- for those of you who know baseball.  (Laughter.)  It’s somebody who’s got a lot of tools.  It multitasks.  It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity.  And there are two big ways in which it does so.
(At least he's being unintentionally honest about the cuts and the pain. Swiss army knives, baseball bats, sharp tools, and shots never fail to get a big guffaw from the ovine audience being lead to the slaughter!)
This bill supports businesses working to develop cutting-edge biofuels -- like some of the work that's being done here at Michigan State.  That has the potential to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  It boosts conservation efforts so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy places like the Mississippi River Valley and Chesapeake Bay.
(Reaganomics won't just trickle down,it'll gush forth in a veritable flood of liquid manure. And why not, since Obama got his political start with the help of such Big Ag megaliths as Archer Daniels Midland. Corn, baby, corn! For our children, of course.)
It supports local food by investing in things like farmers markets and organic agriculture -- which is making my wife very happy.  And when Michelle is happy, I don't know about everybody being happy, but I know I'm happy.  (Laughter and applause.)  And so it's giving smaller producers, local producers, folks like Ben, the opportunity to sell more of their products directly, without a bunch of processing and distributors and middlemen that make it harder for them to achieve.  And it means that people are going to have healthier diets, which is, in turn, going to reduce incidents of childhood obesity and keep us healthier, which saves us all money.
(Whenever Obama is trying to pull a fast one, he references Michelle as both his inspiration and the object of his fear. You might even call the word Michelle a neoliberal catch-phrase as used in the context of an Obama speech. He is telling us that he is just like all the henpecked husbands of America, tryin' to avoid the wrath of Wifey. Of course, he fails to mention that it was Michelle's Let's Move healthy school lunch program that "borrowed" the first round of cuts from the SNAP funding last year.)
The second thing this farm bill does -- that is huge -- is help make sure America’s children don’t go hungry.  (Applause.)   And this is where Debbie’s work was really important.  One study shows that more than half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives.  Now, for most folks that's when you're young and you're eating ramen all the time.  But for a lot of families, a crisis hits, you lose your job, somebody gets sick, strains on your budget -- you have a strong work ethic, but it might take you six months, nine months, a year to find a job.  And in the meantime, you’ve got families to feed.
(I really don't know what to make of this paragraph. I suppose he means that by cutting only $8 billion from food stamps in this go-round, only a million more households will have to go hungry... as opposed to all 47 million currently receiving meager SNAP benefits. But still, it took a lot of chutzpah for him to utter those words. And he's not done yet. Totally ignoring, a la Paul Krugman, those one million unlucky "undeserving poor" duckies getting cut with his folksy Swiss Army Knife, he continues the charade:)
That’s why my position has always been that any farm bill I sign must include protections for vulnerable Americans, and thanks to the good work of Debbie and others, this bill does that.  (Applause.)  And by giving Americans more bang for their buck at places like farmers markets, we’re making it easier for working families to eat healthy foods and we're supporting farmers like Ben who make their living growing it.  So it’s creating new markets for produce farmers, and it means that people have a chance to directly buy from their farmers the kind of food that’s going to keep them healthy.
(Again, the Good Shepherdess and her Mother Teresa-like Good Works persona serves to mask the bipartisan condemnation to hunger of nearly one million additional people. This is the part of the speech I referenced in my Krugman comment, where Obama insinuates that you can now buy more farm-fresh food with less food stamp money. So gas up the car, folks, and have a folksy visit with Old MacDonald. Ee-i-ee-i-oh....bama.)
And the truth is a lot of folks go through tough times at some points in their lives.  That doesn’t mean they should go hungry.  Not in a country like America.  So investing in the communities that grow our food, helping hardworking Americans put that food on the table -- that’s what this farm bill does, all while reducing our deficits through smart reforms. 
It doesn’t include everything that I’d like to see.  And I know leaders on both sides of the aisle feel the same way.  But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill, break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven partisan decision-making, and actually get this stuff done.  (Applause.)  That's a good sign.
(They shouldn't go hungry, but because Obama just signed this abomination of a Farm Bill, they will be going hungry. Instead of mewling he'd prefer not to see kids going to bed hungry, he could have vetoed the bill and sent it back to Congress, demanding that SNAP be expanded and kids get fed three times a day. But that wouldn't have been Bipartisan. It wouldn't have been a good sign. Millionaires agreeing trumps vulnerable people eating. 

And despite claims from Krugman and others that Austerity Is Dead and the deficit hawks have all flown home with their tail-feathers between their legs, Obama is still harping on Deficit Reduction. This is the biggest dog-whistle of all to Pete Peterson and the cabal of Wall Street billionaires who feel personally affronted every time a regular person gets an "entitlement." Smart reforms, as you all know, is another neoliberal buzzword for continued pain for the masses, and boundless pleasure for the insatiable greedheads of the plutocracy. People who, despite giving nothing back to society, are never held accountable for the ten-course luxury meals they enjoy on the public dime. Meals they enjoy thanks in large part to the latest gift of corporate welfare bestowed upon them in the latest Farm Bill.)

(The bill is signed.)  (Applause.)