Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Hard War Against Disposable Youth

This is shocking but not really surprising: Baltimore teenagers appear to have been deliberately set up by government officials and cops on Monday for purposes of accelerating the school-to-prison pipeline, transforming it into a virtual downhill luge event of Olympic Malthusian proportions.

The ruling cartel seized upon a rumor of a "purge" of the police department by roving street gangs in the wake of Freddie Gray's funeral, and got the bright idea of closing the schools early and cancelling the public transportation that is the only way home for many of the kids. Instead of being greeted by school buses, students were greeted by a phalanx of cops in riot gear.

And what a surprise when the kids reacted by fighting back and breaking stuff. It's been a made-for-cable TV spectacle to make the rest of the world forget that a man had died in police custody for the crime of making eye contact with cops and then having the audacity to run away from them. It made the rest of the world forget that city and state officials have stalled on releasing an autopsy report, lest it foment further unrest. Lest it make them look bad.

Baltimore is only the latest, and so far the largest, front in the ongoing "hard war against disposable youth," as explained by writer and social critic Henry Giroux of McMaster University. Just days before the latest outbreak of state-instigated urban violence in Maryland, Henry had sent me a link to a recent CBC radio interview and SPUR talk he gave in Toronto. Listen to the whole thing in the context of Baltimore, and everything becomes disturbingly crystal-clear.

There is both a soft war and hard war against youth. The soft war, waged by the free market and the advertising industry, is an insidious way to infantilize young people, teaching them to become consumers instead of socially responsible citizens.

The hard war is a means of trapping them in the Youth Criminal Control Complex -- "a site of terminal exclusion" --  when they are deemed by cruel design to have become "failed consumers." This is not hyperbole. Every year, 500,000 young people are imprisoned, out of the 2.5 million who are arrested. By the time they reach the age of 23, one-third of Americans are arrested for a crime.

Using the tried and true neoliberal tradition of never letting a crisis go to waste, Maryland Gov. Larry "Law & Order" Hogan promptly suspended Habeas Corpus in the name of protecting the public from the public. More than 200 protesters arrested for disorderly conduct and other relatively minor offenses are being held on high bail that they can't possibly meet. One youth charged with theft, rioting and disorderly conduct is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. Others, including first time offenders and even journalists, remain jailed because they are unable to pay a cash bond of $100,000. This, while the police officers temporarily suspended from duty while the death of Freddie Gray is being investigated, remain free while drawing their paychecks.

Once the Republican governor eventually rescinds his emergency order, the backlog of defendants awaiting bail hearings and arraignment will be a feature, not a bug, of how punishment is meted out to poor people.

"The plight of the outcast has expanded to include a whole generation," Giroux observes in the CBC program. 

And the race to the bottom (or off the rails) of the Malthusian Luge Run is proceeding at breakneck speed, with the US going for the gold for highest death rates and most rampant child poverty in the civilized world. Eduardo Porter lays out the grisly details:
American babies born to white, college-educated, married women survive as often as those born to advantaged women in Europe. It’s the babies born to nonwhite, nonmarried, nonprosperous women who die so young.
Three or four decades ago, the United States was the most prosperous country on earth. It had the mightiest military and the most advanced technologies known to humanity. Today, it’s still the richest, strongest and most inventive. But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind.
Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
It's not just globalization and horrific trade deals like NAFTA and the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership and its grotesque cousin, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It's the fact that "government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together."

 Reactionary right-wing moralizing from the likes of Charles Murray and David Brooks notwithstanding, America is not a welfare state. At least, it's not a welfare state for its people. It is, however, a full-fledged corporate nanny state giving non-stop succor to the plutocracy, multinational businesses, and the permawar industry.

Meanwhile, the poobahs of the media-political complex persist in calling an abused urban population with a youth unemployment rate of over 80% a bunch of "thugs." It's made to order divide-and-conquer propaganda for the One Percent. Pit the poor whites and the poor browns and blacks against one another so that plutocratic power can remain entrenched. It worked for Tricky Dick Nixon and his Silent Majority, and it's working again. Archie Bunker lives, even in the elite educated reader comments section of the New York Times. Instead of police brutality and crushing poverty, we hear the same old themes of black-on-black crime and drug use that are the remnants of a slavery society. The Civil War never really ended.

 It's been only a few generations since the phony truce was signed between a couple of generals.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is announcing a presidential challenge (unfortunately within the cloying confines of the Democratic Party) to Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, that self-styled Boudica of the hard-soft wars, gave a rousing speech for social justice. But she has also just hired Charlie Baker, whose lobby shop helped orchestrate billionaire austerian Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt." That's the astroturf campaign against the already too-thin social safety net. Besides acting as her new chief administrative officer, says the New York Times, Baker will also coordinate slush funding for other Democratic candidates.

The truly damaging burning and looting -- and partisan rooting, and own-horn tooting -- continues unabated at the very highest levels. 

The corporate media celebrate the concern-trolling elites at the same time that they force our glazed eyes toward the shell of a chain drugstore within the shell of a city neighborhood that itself has been smoldering and collapsing for decades. Visuals of destruction are engineered for blame-the-victim purposes. How dare the lower classes destroy a monolith of commerce erected just for them by their betters? 

It's no accident that CNN was prominently looping film of a Newt Gingrich-inspired volunteer janitorial crew cleaning up the mess at "their" store as though it is a worker-owned cooperative and CVS isn't hoarding its insurance check. These are the "respectable" poor people told to be patient while the leaders engage in another National Conversation. 

Meanwhile, for all those at the bottom, still resisting and calling out respectability for the sham it is, here's Bob Marley:
This morning I woke up in a curfew;
O God, I was a prisoner, too

 Could not recognize the faces standing over me;
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thug Is the New Black

"Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who in a very senseless way are trying to tear down what so many have fought for." -- Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.(D)

"The lawless gangs of thugs roaming the streets -- we're not going to tolerate that." and "“I assured him (President Obama) we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs.” -- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.(R)

"Thug" is, of course, a racist dog-whistle term, used with impunity across the political spectrum as the PC substitute for nigger. That a black Democratic mayor should also use it at a press conference about the ongoing rebellion sparked by the fatal spinal cord severing suffered by Freddie Gray while in police custody really should come as no surprise. Rawlings-Blake is a corporate Democrat in the vein of Barack Obama (whose own personal dog-whistle term of choice is the more discreet "knuckleheads").* Her current function includes reassuring white people that she has got this covered. Black heads will roll. She will watch the same TV thug-footage which she purports to despise (for its anti-Chamber of Commerce character) in order to bring charges against people who cut holes in fire hoses and threw rocks at cops.

The Thug Word got a ton of record-shattering use last year when it was applied to Stanford alumnus/Seattle Seahawks football player Richard Sherman after a post-game tirade conducted in the presence of a single white female sideline reporter. According to a Deadspin analysis, "thug" was uttered by shocked and offended TV pundits a grand total of 625 times in the 24 hours following Sherman's rant.
 The word "thug" has been used so many times by the same sort of people about the same sort of thing that it's no longer even accurate to call it code—it's really more of a shorthand. It means a black guy who makes white folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer. On Sunday night, Richard Sherman made a lot of people uncomfortable. Then on Monday, people said thug on TV more often than on any other day in the past three years.
The Deadspin analysis revealed that the Thug Word was used mainly by local affiliates, and that the previous most widespread repetition of the word in national media had been when Secretary of State John Kerry used it to berate Bashar al-Assad, aka the Butcher of Damascus.

I am guessing that the Baltimore protests and unrest will probably surpass both football player rants and foreign despotic atrocities to become the new champion Thug Word magnet, attracting use of the pejorative from across the entire media-political complex. I'm still trying to locate CNN transcripts in order to count how many times Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, Tom Fuentes and Jeffrey Toobin uttered the Thug Word as they sputtered their amazement that unemployed or underpaid black people would dare loot the CVS pharmacy and steal diapers and soda. Where were the cops? Blitzer inadvertently broadcast the real purpose of urban police forces, which (besides abusing the population) is the defense of free market capitalism and rent-seekers.

He hasn't seen anything like this in exceptional America for a long time. People might even be getting revenge against usurious check-cashing depots which have been ripping them off for years! Just as likely, they're availing themselves of bottled water since the city is now joining Detroit in cutting off tap water to residents behind on their bills.

And here's "legal analyst" Jeffrey Toobin helpfully dog-whistling the sexual predator meme  -- specifically, that the rioters are related to a group that once took over a prison and impregnated (white) female guards:

But back to Mayor Rawlings-Blake, who in her other capacity as secretary of the Democratic National Committee, is also a frequent token guest on the Sunday inside-the-Beltway gabfests. In the elite tradition of Chicago's Mayor Rahm "One Percent" Emanuel, she established her neoliberal bona fides early in her term by slashing recreational funding for city youth and increasing funding for the police department.  Twenty-four public recreation centers were closed, and another half-dozen were privatized. From The Militant Negro:
Rawlings-Blake credits her reforms to the city pension for saving $64 million yearly, saving the city from an even worse fiscal crisis. The mayor has made extensive cuts to city social welfare programs, with cuts to funding for prisoner reentry programs and the elimination of the city’s offices of Community Development and Community Relations.  In 2012, to close the budget deficit, the mayor closed 3 fire stations two of them serving Harlem Park/Sandtown-Winchester and Berea/Clifton are among Baltimore’s poorest communities.
So there's the answer to Wolf Blitzer's angst over "Where's the fire trucks? Where's the fire trucks?"

Despite imposing austerity on Baltimore's impoverished citizens, Rawlings-Blake still found the wherewithal to host the city's annual Grand Prix, in which municipal streets are closed and shade trees cut down for the racing pleasure of sports car owners and their multinational corporate backers. The contract for the event was coincidentally awarded to her largest campaign donor. When one city council member questioned her priorities, she promptly cancelled his Ravens box seat season tickets.

And then there's the typical neoliberal push for gentrification of urban areas. Rawlings-Blake awarded a couple of waterside developers $22 million in tax breaks in exchange for a paltry $250,000 contribution to her struggling city.

She also has the dubious distinction of being named the worst mayor in America, or at least having tied with Shrillionaire Mike "Stop & Frisk" Bloomberg in the final vote tally. Like Bloomberg, SRB seems convinced that all that poor cities need to achieve prosperity are gimmicks and developments funded by public money for private profit.

From Boston Streets:
After everything that happened in 2011 (huge losses to the city), SRB and her team worked feverishly to help create a new organization, Race On LLC, and start planning the 2012 Grand Prix. The new organization is led by her largest campaign contributor and made up almost entirely of the same clowns who botched it up the first time. The same people who absolved themselves of their responsibilities are now collecting salaries to do it all over again. With the mayor’s full blessing and encouragement!
This is the true brilliance of SRB’s awfulness. Not only does she aggressively pursue exactly the wrong projects and policies, she employs corrupt and misguided tactics to make sure they happen.
They even derisively call her Mayor Vroom-Vroom.

So there's the answer to Wolf Blitzer's anguished question about why all the speeding cop cars.

Baltimore is Le Mans in the ghetto. The real thugs tearing stuff down are the hyper-capitalists extracting profits from poor people at the speed of blight.

* Update: Knuckleheads is so yesterday. As befits his position as chief representative of Plutocrats, Inc. Barack Obama has now gotten with the dog-whistling program. From The Hill:
President Obama on Tuesday blamed "criminals and thugs" for the violence that erupted in Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody.
“There is no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive," Obama said. "They’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement. They are stealing.”
Obama said the violent demonstrations undermined the message of peaceful protesters who made "legitimate" complaints about problems in Baltimore. “One burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again and the ... protesters who did it the right way will be lost in the discussion."
More like the propaganda and Al Sharpton are getting lost in the discussion. But anyhoo, now that Obama has made the world safe for Thug-shaming, look for the word to become a gilded super-magnet for color-blind acceptable racist discourse from across the political spectrum -- which in Exceptional America, ranges all the way from A to B.

Monday, April 27, 2015

TPP = Total Plutocratic Predation

The fact that the Obama administration has threatened to prosecute any member of Congress who shares the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the public is all the proof you need that this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad deal.

Through Wikileaks, though, we’ve been made privy to its wish list of corporate power grabs. These include, but are by no means limited to: global pharmaceutical price-fixing; putting the world's casino banking cartel on a steady diet of crack cocaine; scrapping the Fair Use doctrine and the free Internet and by extension, free speech; and riding roughshod over a whole panoply of food safety, public health, environmental, and labor laws.

Even if all the above were to be removed from the deal, the mere survival of a clause that replaces sovereign court systems with investor state dispute tribunals ruled by corporate lawyers is heinous enough. It's so bad that Obama and his Wall Street cronies need it to stay a classified secret for at least four years, lest the frogs wake up in their simmering soaking tubs, hop out in the nick of time, run wild, and eat the rent-seeking rich.

Joe Firestone has just published a masterful 23-count indictment of the TPP -- or as he calls it, a Dayenu Seder chant with 23 stanzas. Read, croak or intone the whole thing, then call your congress critter and repeat. A litany repeated often enough can be even more powerful than a bribe, especially when each stanza rings true.

 Obama and the Republicans are orchestrating an act of aggression, not only against American citizens, but against 40% of the world’s economy. This is a president, after all, who has given himself the right to kill anyone at any time in any place. This is a Congress which not only gives him a blank check to kill, but has its members regularly attend snuff films showing people getting blown up by presidential fiat. This is a Supreme Court which has declared money to be speech and political bribery to be legal. This is a Fourth Estate which now holds that accessing the comfortable and the powerful is easier and more career-rewarding than afflicting them.

So, think of the TPP as an invisible predator drone buzzing over your head. Once it strikes, it’ll be too late to run or hide. Protest will be futile. Because despite Obama’s derisive comparison of TPP opponents to Sarah Palin, it is indeed a death panel. By virtue of both its opacity and its toxicity, it effectively condemns democracy to an early grave. Did I mention another clause which guarantees that the entire treaty is designed to remain ironclad for at least the next several administrations?

Obama recently revealed his true inner Joe Wilson pissiness when he publicly shrilled out to TPP critic Elizabeth Warren:"You lie!"  He is absolutely shameless in slapping the “progressive” label on this deal and falsely claiming it supports millions of American jobs --  when it is specifically designed to offshore millions of jobs, effectively depressing wages and ramping up mass precarity.

Can you imagine, as Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown did recently, if Obama had expended half as much energy pushing for a jobs bill and living wage legislation and universal health care and student debt forgiveness as he is in cramming this latest corporate tyranny grab down our throats?

The White House openly and chillingly admits that the neoliberal overthrow of state sovereignty is one of the "pillars of his presidency". At the expense of our own future, he has supreme visions of his own:

Finalists, Obama Library and Shrine design contest (credit: Curbed Chicago)

Tell your congressional reps to vote against fast track, and tell them today. Our time is running out. Remind them that regardless of their powerful donors, they still rely on ordinary human voters for their continued employment.

 We won’t ever forget. Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Commentariat Central

Consider this your weekend open thread to comment/kvetch about whatever, within reason or unreason as the case may be.

As promised, here's the dump  of my New York Times comments from the past week or so, (excluding the ones already embedded in blog-posts here) in no particular order. Links to the original op-eds and articles are provided for your contextual pleasure.

Clinton Rules (Paul Krugman) 9/24:

The real Clinton scandals have harmed millions of people. They are NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the end of direct cash aid to the poor. The Clintons have had some shady dealings post-presidency too. But we can't expect them to suddenly turn squeaky clean in their dotage, can we?

And the Bush dynasty's dirty laundry goes back whole generations. What I really looking forward to reading are those 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 Commission Report. They allegedly show some sleazy relationships among the attacks, the Saudi royals and the Bushes. For some reason, the current administration keeps protecting the previous Reign of Torture. Why? We're not allowed to find out, because it might damage "national" (read: plutocratic) security.

I think the Clintons should allow an outside auditor to go over all their books. And that auditor should not be Chelsea or anybody connected to Clinton World. I guess that leaves everybody out. But I hear Eric Holder just became available. Oops, I forgot.... Marc Rich.... Pardongate.

The only smear on Hillary that I can remember from 2007-08 (besides the diss over her meeting with Mellon-Scaife) was the "D-Punjab" memo anonymously sent to various media. It accused her of influence-peddling among Indian-Americans and collecting hefty speaking fees from Cisco, a company that outsourced workers to India. More here:


Regret Over a Drone's Deadly Damage (NY Times editorial), 9/25:

 The Senate last year quietly removed an amendment to an intelligence bill that would have required President Obama to release details -- names, ages, deaths, injuries -- of every one of his drone strike victims.

The president could have engaged in soul-searching and transparency a year ago. But like the inscrutable Bartleby the Scrivener, he preferred not to.

Since he's already broken his first pledge of openness on his drone assassination program, and since Congress displays zero interest in holding him (and future presidents) to account, take his latest pledge with a grain of salt.

Obama's terse apology might have seemed heartfelt, but he has always displayed a disturbing callousness when it comes to other casualties of what the CIA calls The Disposition Matrix. When a Pakistani father and his children traveled to Washington in 2013 to testify before Congress about a drone strike that had killed the family matriarch, few reps even bothered showing up. Records show that on the day of their testimony, Obama himself was meeting with the CEOs of drone manufacturers Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Obama has just O.K.'d the sales of armed drones to foreign countries. What could possibly go wrong? Nobody could ever have predicted. Mistakes are made. Blowback.


Love and Merit (David Brooks), 4/24:

Oh, the agony of affluenza.

Because David Brooks isn't talking about the poor and working classes here. He's talking about the rich. In the bubble which he inhabits, the most pressing problem for families is not where the next meal or paycheck is coming from, but which Ivy will accept their child.

The rich and the politicians they own are fond of speaking of kids as commodities. They're investments, just like pork belly futures. The rich want a return on their investments, and kids are no exception. It's no surprise that the suicide rate among young people in Silicon Valley is on the upswing. They are abused by wealth.

So their parents need an intervention. Their excess income needs to be trimmed, and their kids need to be let out of their gated communities. The curriculum has to be modeled less on careerist success, and more on social and economic justice for all.

Extreme wealth inequality is bad for everybody, both rich and poor. Die from indigestion or die from starvation, both are painful. So why not level the playing field and let everybody live, David? The cruel social policies born of Reagan and his paramour Thatcher have metastasized to lethal proportions. We are the sickest, most indebted, most overworked, insecure people in the civilized world, and the most pessimistic about our children's futures.

Social Darwinism is coming back to haunt its right-wing perpetrators where they live and breed. So tax the rich. Their spawn will thank you.


Zombies of 2016 (Paul Krugman), 4/24:

 A fat zombie from Jersey lumbering and wheezing around the countryside eating up the poor, the sick and the struggling: what a perfect trailer for Ayn Rand's Apocalypse Now.

It's not only the greedy politicians and the complicit media who've been consumed by extremist right-wing ideas: it's our whole system of "justice." Too big to fail banks get a free pass to launder money for vicious drug cartels and hide the untaxed wealth of plutocrats, while the poor get jailed for the crime of being poor. Debtors' prisons are back, to contain the humanity that fat zombies chew up before spitting out in disgust.

There's a reason we have the highest incarceration rate in the world: convicts are disenfranchised, and Chris Christie & Co would just as soon "those people" not even vote.

But the press courtiers chuckle and write up his Soprano jokes, not daring to admit that it's all a scam run by a legitimated mafia, a permanent cabal of ruling class racketeers. No surprise they want to raise the Medicare age and repeal the ACA: an estimated 17,000 people a year are dying already in states where the GOP has refused to expand Medicaid. Their mouths are watering.

The mega-rich sucked up more than 90% of the gains since the '08 meltdown, and CEOs now make 350X the pay of the average worker. But they're never replete.

The GOP zombie hordes peddle hyper-greed, hyper-nationalism, hyper-fear, hyper-ignorance -- and they peddle it all in the name of God.

They need an exorcism.


An Exclusive Arrangement on a Clinton Book, and Many Questions (Margaret Sullivan), 4/23:

t's unfortunate that Peter Schweizer has damaged his credibility by associating himself with right-wing think tanks and doing partisan hack work alongside some pretty solid investigative reporting. Like most journalists, he is probably hard up for cash.

His book "Throw Them All Out," about insider trading by congress members, led to the bipartisan legislation known as the STOCK Act. Of course, the crooked politicians swiftly got around their self-reform fig leaf of a law by simply using family members' names for future insider trading.

Schweizer took particular aim at Spencer Bachus, ranking GOP member of the House financial services committee, who profited big-time off the Wall Street meltdown based on info he'd gleaned from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. Schweizer's investigative reporting was widely featured and lauded by the "liberal" mainstream media (60 Minutes, MSNBC) at the time.

He says he is hated by both big money parties. Sounds like the classic definition of an old-school "afflict the comfortable" journalist to me. So it's all the more baffling that he'd also indulge in shlock oppo research and demagogy for Breitbart and others.

There is a lot of "shoot the messenger" going on here, not helped by either the timing of the Clinton book or the Times' rather sloppily worded explanation of its collaboration with Schweizer. Like the Clintons' newly-exposed uranium wheeling and dealing, even the mere appearance of impropriety is cause for concern.


Hollywood Trumps Harvard (Frank Bruni), 4/22:

Wikileaks has exposed the tangled web of sticky threads interconnecting Hollywood, the White House, the Pentagon, corporations, think tanks and academia.

Gates wrote that Affleck's censorship attempt was strangely misplaced, given that his slave-owning ancestor "wasn't even a bad guy. We don't demonize him at all."

Wow. That a respected scholar would whitewash history by showing the professed owner of human beings in a positive light is indeed akin to TV hucksterism in the Land of Oz. As was Gates's angst that his civil rights history "brand" might be damaged.

In another leaked email, Lynton refuses Gates's request to travel East to personally bestow the W.E.B. Du Bois award on Democratic mega-donor/mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, who'd apparently been a controversial choice in the first place, due to his "personality." (but not his bucks or his connections, obviously)

The whole pay-to-play culture is exposed for all to see. Money and propaganda and favors and pettiness flow like champagne.

We learn that Hollywood hates the Fair Use law. Not only are the big studios lobbying heavily for passage of the top-secret corporate giveaway known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they are also among its main architects, personally dictating its draconian intellectual property law clause. We learn that Hollywood freaked out when Wikileaks spilled the TPP beans.

So thank you, Wikileaks.


Lessons from #RaceTogether (Joe Nocera), 4/21:

Starbucks is among the more than 600 multinational corporations lobbying heavily for passage of the job-destroying Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is a member in good standing of the Grocery Manufacturing Association, which is behind the TPP clause allowing for for looser regulations in food labeling, specifically the labeling of GMO food.

Have you checked out the Starbucks menu lately? The restaurant chain, which prides itself on its liberalism, does not disclose the chemicals and additives in either its food treats or its coffee confections (heavy on proplyene glycol, high fructose corn syrup and artificial food colorings). So theoretically, if one of the countries signing the TPP decides to ban a chemical contained in a Starbucks snack or beverage, Starbucks could sue for lost profits in a secretive investor state tribunal court. It could even help appoint the lawyers posing as judges deciding such cases.

#RaceTogether to Stop the TPP.


Greece On the Brink (Paul Krugman). 4/20:
The ruling class racketeers might not want Greece to fail, but nor do they want people to prosper, when bleeding them dry is so much addictive fun. The sight of Syriza prevailing might give the rest of us too many ideas of our own.

It would signal that things don't have to be this way. It would prove that extreme wealth inequality and social ills are not "natural phenomena." Debt can indeed be cancelled, and the Richie Riches of the world can indeed take their haircuts without so much as a blip on the radar. The elites' moral outrage, their demands that the poor suffer and pay for the misdeeds of their selfish leaders through a massive bloodletting that never ends, would be exposed as one big plutocratic temper tantrum, signifying nothing.

The triumph of what Hillary Clinton calls "everyday people" is unthinkable in this Age of Neoliberalism. And that's why we should all be rooting for Greece. It's where democracy was born, after all.

And Paul Krugman deserves praise for venturing out and visiting people
where they are suffering -- besides giving his professional advice to Syriza leaders. Because not only does the Troika seem bent on forcing "failure" on the Greeks, their cruelty is literally shortening their lives.

As the late Eduardo Galeano observed, predatory capital views a small nation like Greece as "no more than a hurdle to leap -- for sovereignty can be inconvenient -- or a succulent fruit to devour."

What if we all stood together and refused to be eaten?


Granny Get Your Gun (Maureen Dowd), 4/18:

The only thing possibly worse than the GOP misogynists attacking Hillary is Hillary's supporters accusing progressives of being anti-feminist if we choose not to support her based purely upon her XX bona fides. Willingly impaling myself on falling glass ceiling shards and then washing myself pink with trickle-down corporate feminism is not my idea of democracy.

Then there's the dire warning that unless we vote the We Suck Less party, progressives will be totally to blame for the collapse of civilization. Not to mention the transformation of the Supreme Court into a Black Mass cult of neoliberal theocratists. We certainly don't want to risk another Harriet Miers.

We're already being pre-Naderized, and the "free" election is a year and a half away.
Elizabeth Warren, though not a candidate, is nonetheless waging a highly effective issues campaign against Hillary. She's come out strongly against the TPP, and this week again called for the breaking up of the Too Big to Fail criminal banking cartel. Yes, Hillary has chided Wall Street, but they all know it's part of the game. They know she doesn't really mean it.

Meanwhile, fast food workers are striking and black lives are mattering and wages are starting to rise. Not because of Hillary or any other politician, but because of ourselves.

I plan on concentrating on my state and local elections where I might still make a difference. The national contest is already is a predetermined sham.


Checking Charlie Hebdo's Privilege (Ross Douthat), 4/18:

The abortion rate is at its lowest level since Roe v Wade was enacted. The child poverty rate, on the other hand, is at its highest level in 50 years. Is it a coincidence that the states with the most penury are in Deep South GOP territory?

This is closely followed by the misery in the Midwest rust belt, where NAFTA and globalization have closed the factories and depressed the wages. In Detroit, the water has been turned off in homes with children whose working parents don't earn enough to pay the bills. The Michigan poverty rate is actually worse than it was in 1960. And thanks to GOP intransigence on immigration reform, the child poverty rate in California is at a record 27%. Immigrant families are denied even the most basic help if they are undocumented.

According to the Catholic charity Bread of the World, race is even more of a factor than geography. In corny Iowa, for example, the poverty rate for black children is higher than that of Mississippi. It's Eugenics 101 by any other name, and it's the deliberate product of the primitive right wing brain.

Meanwhile, Ross chides progressives for political incorrectness, for not linking Je Suis Charlie with Je Suis Fetus. Je suis fed up with his serial shallow sermonizing to straw men. His red pill is a poison pill.

It's of a piece with Gwyneth Paltrow's celebrity food stamp challenge. It takes the basic ingredients of a selfish rich person's high colonic and calls it nourishing empathy for the downtrodden.


Obama and the Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership... Unfortunately (Mark Bittman).4/22:

Thank you for calling out the TPP in all its corrupt ignominy because, as Senator Bernie Sanders noted, the rest of the corporate media have been criminally negligent in not bringing this assault on democracy to the public's attention.

Nobody should be surprised that Barack Obama is pushing the TPP with all his might, telling us it's such a great deal for "folks" that its contents have to kept from our eyes for the usual reason: our "national security."

In 2006, then-Senator Obama appeared before the Wall Street-funded Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute to assure what essentially was a presidential candidate vetting committee that he was a hardcore free-trader, acknowledged that NAFTA hurt working people, and that the future destruction of American lives and livelihoods as a result of globalization would not be a "bloodless process." Chillingly, he didn't utter one single word against this "process.":

It's worth remembering that besides the Opium Wars mentioned by Mr. Bittman, "free trade" was also the euphemism used by European and American capitalists for hundreds of years as they kidnapped human beings to sell on the open market. Slavery dies hard, whatever form it might take.

The TPP is a war of economic aggression against humanity.

"These historical antecedents teach us that free trade and other such monetary freedoms are to free peoples what Jack the Ripper was to St. Francis of Assisi." -- Eduardo Galeano

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Obama's Violent Mood Swing

*Updated Below

Barack Obama didn't even find it necessary on Thursday to utter the word "drone" to explain how an American aid worker and an Italian aid worker died in Pakistan early this year. He didn't have to mention the countless thousands of others, known alternately as "collateral damage" or "suspected militants" whom he has killed over the years, because Congress has kindly decreed he needn't ever divulge their names or the grisly details. He will, however, nobly accept "full responsibility," cut a check or two, and move on.

And move on he did. Regrets, he had a few, but then again too few to mention. Because by afternoon, he was the center of hilarious attention at another White House event honoring the Super Bowl champs. Far from feeling deflated after his wooden apology (described as anguished and heartfelt by media sycophants) to his victims' relatives, he cracked jokes for eight straight minutes with the ballers who brawl both on and off the field. He devoted at least twice as much time regaling players and sports fans as he did explaining his drone kills to the hostage families and to the rest of us.

Within the space of a few short hours, Obama went from this:

 To this:

They don't call him the chameleon for nothing. He himself did once warn us that he was naught but a blank slate upon which we could pin all our hopes and dreams. So stop complainin' and lookin' blank, citizens, and eat your peas.

We've haven't played Parse-a-Prez for a awhile, have we? So let's give it another go, beginning with the Sad Obama character:
This morning, I want to express our grief and condolences to the families of two hostages.  One American, Dr. Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, who were tragically killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation.
Right off the bat he absolves himself of any real blame by using the weasely passive voice. Predator drones launched on his personal orders deliberately smashed a group of human beings to smithereens in an act of state-sponsored murder. It was not a "tragedy." It was another war crime, hideously euphemized by Obama as an "operation."
 Warren and Giovanni were aid workers in Pakistan devoted to improving the lives of the Pakistani people.  After Warren was abducted by al Qaeda in 2011, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family.  And dedicated professionals across our government worked tirelessly to do so.  We also worked closely with our Italian allies on behalf of Giovanni, who was kidnapped in 2012.
Weinstein's widow begs to differ with the condolator in chief. She is not shy about accusing the government of doing bupkis to find her husband and secure his release.
Since 9/11, our counterterrorism efforts have prevented terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives both here in America, and around the world.  And that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us.  Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni this past January.
That is pure bullshit of course. His efforts, aka bombings, have caused mayhem and fear among innocent families. His efforts have helped destabilize vast swaths of the Middle East, most recently in Yemen, which is now being pounded by Saudi Arabia, Obama's authoritarian BFF and buyer of expensive American killing machines. Obama is especially pained by having to deal with the deaths of  two hostages, because it proves he and his team have no earthly idea who it is they're targeting. Their advanced technology was unable to detect the presence of the prisoners. They had no clue that prisoners are often kept in compounds.
It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes -- sometimes deadly mistakes -- can occur.  But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.
Shit happens, but we wipe our asses with expensive toilet tissue, wash our hands, and move on. Because we're exceptional imperialists. Because we can get away with it. "America" is not perfect, but the cartel running the place surely must be.
Today we join their families and friends in honoring Warren and Giovanni -- two humanitarians who came from different countries but who were united by a spirit of service.....
  I usually tell a bunch of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat. All right, all right. That whole story got blown a little out of proportion.
Bugsplat, drones, get it?

Uhhhh.... What's that you say? I got a little ahead of my skis and careened right into Obama's next speech by passive mistake? Ooops. Well, I do extend my regrets and accept full responsibility for mistakes that were made in the fog of blog. But let's turn the page, look forward, move on to Happy Obama:
All right, all right. That whole story (Deflate Gate) got blown a little out of proportion. All right, where were we? Here’s what makes the Patriots the Patriots. Even in the midst of a huge distraction, during the biggest media circus of the sports year, they stayed focused. As coach Belichick would say, it was simply on to Seattle.
(Obama can so relate to not letting blowback and distractions ever get in his way. He has that preternatural ability to flit from place to place, mood to mood, persona to persona.) 
"Gronkowski just being Gronkowski. He’s not making rabbit ears back there. I told him to keep his shirt on. He asked me what would happen if he took it off. I said, ‘Secret Service probably wouldn’t like it.’ He said, ‘What could they do to me?’
I got two words for you guys: Predator Drones. Or maybe Colombia hookers. Heh heh heh.

Obama was making an inside joke about the Secret Service's alleged lack of humor. At last month's annual off-the-record Gridiron Dinner, which Obama headlined, male reporters, aka media personalities, dressed as Colombia prostitutes and sang "We're Not Watching You" to the tune of "Every Breath You Take." The props included a White House fence and a drone flying overhead.

The Secret Service was not amused at being turned into a complete laughingstock, apparently. From the Washington Post
In a letter obtained by the Loop to Gridiron President Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, the trade association that represents the Secret Service let known its displeasure.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association “understands a good joke,” wrote Jon Adler, the group’s president. “But the jokes concerning the Secret Service’s recent issues came off lowbrow and unappreciated by our Members working at the dinner.”
I guess they didn't get the message that they are merely the help, and that although Obama proclaimed himself very angry in public about the prostitution scandal, his mood swung violently back to hilarity at the private dinner as the prostituted reporters played prostitute and thumbed their noses at the cops tasked with guarding official government hides. It was all in such good fun. There was absolutely no danger of the courtier press getting shot. They are too indispensable to the status quo.

We are so exceptional. God Help America. 

*Update, 4/24: Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a pretty chilling analysis of Obama's drone program. Or should I say his drone addiction: 
The drone’s vaunted capability for pinpoint killing appealed to a president intrigued by a new technology and determined to try to keep the United States out of new quagmires. Aides said Mr. Obama liked the idea of picking off dangerous terrorists a few at a time, without endangering American lives or risking the yearslong bloodshed of conventional war.
“Let’s kill the people who are trying to kill us,” he often told aides.
By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling.
Shane offers no evidence, nor any names of the hundreds of dangerous militants, defined in a secret document called the Disposition Matrix as any male of military age.
The president’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted.
In all, it was a devastating acknowledgment for Mr. Obama, who had hoped to pioneer a new, more discriminating kind of warfare. Whether the episode might bring a long-delayed public reckoning about targeted killings, long hidden by classification rules, remained uncertain.
This is an article designed to show that Obama is human and is doing some heavy soul-searching. Once it becomes evident that "everyday Americans" still don't care, the story likely will be sucked down the memory hole. My published comment:
Will the revelations of the botched drone strike cause a great national soul-searching? That's highly doubtful.

The majority of polled Americans don't care about the deaths and maimings of people living in "tribal areas." The xenophobia and fear-mongering blasting nonstop from Fox and CNN have been highly effective in normalizing signature strikes against persons both unknown and unknowable.

Within hours of delivering his apology for the "mistakes that were made in the fog of war," Obama was laughing it up at another White House event honoring the Super Bowl champions. He spent at least twice as much time cracking jokes and regaling the audience and the media as he had expressing his regrets to the families of the dead hostages. He even joked about what the Secret Service might do to a player if he took off his shirt.

Tasteless, arrogant, ruthless and sick.

No scandal, no consequences for Oval Office Murder, Inc. Because it was almost a year ago that the Senate quietly stripped an intelligence bill provision that would have required the president to supply the names and other details of everybody killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. James Clapper complained that such transparency would undermine the effectiveness of what they euphemize as "operations."

Well, so much for the vaunted therapeutic surgical precision of the Kill List. I am surprised they didn't also joke that although the operation was a success, the wrong patients died.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Invasion of the Hillzabeth

(updated below)

I'd promised myself that I would limit my posts on Hillary to only one per week, lest I become as addicted to the effervescence as the mainstream press seems to be. With a full year and half to go before election day, I didn't want to suffer acute Clinton burnout on top of my chronic Clinton burnout. Even Hillary seems to be getting tired of herself. She is not so much running for president as she is sauntering for president.

But I couldn't resist her campaign's latest gimmick -- which is to claim that Elizabeth Warren is not really Elizabeth Warren, and that Hillary Clinton is not really Hillary Clinton. It's some kind of weird rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The plot is convoluted, so bear with me:

There never was an Elizabeth Warren, or at least not the Elizabeth Warren we think we know and love. The real Elizabeth Warren is Hillary Clinton. The fake Elizabeth, hogging attention in the Senate, crept right into Hillary's mind one night. She sucked out Hillary's passionate populism like a vampire sucks blood, claiming it as her own. What a bitch.

And all that's left of poor Hillary is a robotic wraith*. She wanders the plutocratic landscape, devoid of all emotion and humanity.

In case you're confused (I know that I am) I will let the New York Times explain it better. Amy Chozick, who has the enviable assignment of being the permanent Hillary beat reporter, headlines her story "Campaign Casts Hillary Clinton as the Populist It Insists She Has Always Been."

Like I said, this is shades of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As that cult classic movie begins, a boy insists that his mother isn't his mother, and a woman thinks her husband isn't her husband. and so forth. It turns out the townsfolk are getting subsumed, while they sleep, by giant alien outer-space pods who morph into exact facsimiles of the person they replace.  At first, people who insist that their relatives aren't who they say they are get written off as nuts. Until the movie progresses, that is, and everybody turns into a progressive pod-zombie. The few remaining holdouts gradually succumb to sleep through sheer exhaustion. It's just a movie, though. Neoliberal Death Match 2016 is all too real.

The Futile Fight Against Hillary Fatigue

Back to the Times article:
But now, the former secretary of state must persuade voters that she is the right messenger for the cause of inequality, not simply seizing on it out of political expedience.
Nothing stings members of her inner circle more than the suggestion that their candidate is late to these issues. Mrs. Clinton was the original Elizabeth Warren, her advisers say, a populist fighter who for decades has been an advocate for families and children; only now have the party and primary voters caught up.
“I don’t know why we have this semicollective amnesia about her past positions,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and Mrs. Clinton’s policy director in 2008. “She’s following no one on these issues.”
Neera Tanden can gas-light we doubters all she wants, but there are some inconvenient truths about Humanish Hillary. Just like the pod people, she is both new and a con -- a Neocon. She is more hawkish than Obama. 

And although she speaks often about women and families, her words have not been followed by similar actions: quite the opposite, in fact. As a board member for Walmart while she was first lady of Arkansas, she remained silent as the Walton family fought unions and a minimum wage. And Alice Walton, who along with her fellow heirs owns as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent of Americans, has already given $25,000 to the Ready for Hillary PAC  -- relative chump change which nonetheless is more than the annual salary of the average  female Walmart employee.

Hillary was instrumental in Bill Clinton's collusion with Republicans that cut off direct cash aid to poor mothers and children. And she bragged about it in her  first memoir. "By the time Bill and I left the White House," she gushed, "welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent!"

Well, she did say she was dead broke when she left, so I assume that she wanted the still-poor welfare moms to achieve parity with her in order to show solidarity with their champion. Don't even get me started on her championship of NAFTA, which saw the exodus of millions of jobs, including the jobs held by working women.

There's so much more, which I will get to often in the next endless year and a half. But meanwhile, Team Clinton is trying to rewrite fact as fantasy, omitting the scary special effects. According to the revisionary history, Hillary was a left-wing firebrand in the White House, until the State Department gig forced her to act boring and conservative and hawkish and non-Warrenish. From the Times again:
This perception comes because she wasn’t involved in the discussion for so long,” Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist, said of Mrs. Clinton. Because, she added, in the White House “she had this reputation as being the very left-wing, liberal, Elizabeth Warren type.”
Anita Dunn must be living in a fog. According to DeSmogBlog, Dunn is a lobbyist who's gotten rich from, among other things, working for the tar sands and fracked oil industries as well as doing public relations for the railroads hosting those exploding oil bomb terror trains. She's spun through the Washington revolving doors so many times that she is no longer recognizable as a pod person. She's a blur.

A 16-page dossier called "Hillary Clinton: A Lifetime Champion of Income Opportunity" reads like a hokey Lifetime made-for-TV movie, the one where the filthy rich guy has the epiphany -- not to agree to pay more taxes, of course, but to marry the struggling single mom, and make us all feel vicariously good for about five minutes.

Elizabeth Warren, sniffed an aide, is only a "footnote" in the Book of Hillary. According to the Book, the too-big-to-fail banks do not even exist. They are replaced by commodities known as children -- who are too small to fail, assuming of course that they work hard and play by the rules. Then they can morph into investments like pork belly futures. Or pod-people. It is cute beyond words.

 I have no more words.

*Update, 4/23: Make that a radioactive robotic wraith. While some of us were sleeping, the New York Times published what would, in a sane world devoid of pod people, be the coup de grace for the Hillary campaign. Read the whole thing. The Clintons make Frank and Clare Underwood look like Ward and June Cleaver. Unfortunately, Democrats are viewing this meticulously researched and damning piece as just more one Hillary-hating attack by the Worse Evil Party. It has gotten so zombie-ish in the Land of the Free that you may now call yourself "pragmatic" for blindly accepting felonious behavior by your favorite candidates.

Of course, we've been governed by an organized crime ring for quite a while now. It's called the permanent ruling class.