Saturday, May 30, 2015

Big Brother Depo$es

 The obscene multibillion-dollar profits of the Security State Complex are in danger of being ever so slightly curtailed should the Patriot Act be allowed to deservedly fade into the sunset this weekend. And thus have the greedy and the powerful panicked. Thus have the greedy and powerful duly authorized their current front man in the White House to shamelessly terrorize the crap out of the people who elected him to act on behalf of the greedy and powerful.

The only thing we have to fear, according to Barack Obama, are the invisible bogeymen ("terrorists") who plot in the dark to kill us all in our beds. With billions or even trillions of dollars at stake, Obama is desperately pushing all the paranoid panic buttons in his propaganda arsenal to guilt-trip Congress into passing the USA Freedom Act "reform" of mass surveillance of every man, woman and child on the planet.

Just 24 hours after the White House and its deep-state private army used the New York Times to anonymously press for open-ended and permanent spying on ordinary people, Obama has emerged from his Neocon closet to deliver the fear, up close and personal, via his weekly address (the quaint term used for his weekly reassuring dog-whistle to his corporate backers.) Just substitute the word "citizen" for "terrorist," for example, and the true intent of the USA Freedom Act becomes perfectly and abundantly clear: the Free Market god will rule over you and yours, forever and ever amen.  Because the Permawar Industry is one of the few things artificially propping up the plutonomy these days.    

You can read Obama's very flimsily disguised speech here.

But the subtext (parentheses mine) goes something like this:
Hi, everybody. As President and Commander in Chief, my greatest responsibility is the safety of the (ruling class) American people. And in our fight against terrorists (ordinary people), we need to use every effective tool at our disposal -- both to defend our (obscene profits) security and to protect the freedoms and civil liberties (of the hyper-rich investors in War) enshrined in our (plutocratic/political donor databases) Constitution.

 Today, when investigating (you) terrorist networks, our (state spies) national security professionals can (at their entirely optional and top-secret discretion) seek a court order to obtain (whatever we want) certain business records. Our (spies) law enforcement professionals can seek a roving wiretap to keep up with (anybody we like) terrorists when they switch cell phones. We can seek a wiretap on (anybody we like) so-called lone wolves -- suspected terrorists who may (be entirely innocent) not be directly tied to a terrorist group. These tools are not controversial (because the American people are a flock of sheep) Since 9/11, (civil rights have gone out the window) they have been renewed numerous times. FBI Director James Comey says they are “essential” and that losing them would “severely” impact (the profits of the Homeland-Industrial Complex) terrorism investigations. But if Congress doesn’t act by tomorrow at midnight, these tools go away as well. (and your sense of false security will be needlessly rattled as the Permawar Terror State is exposed as a rotten pumpkin-carcass.)

The USA Freedom Act also accomplishes something I called for a year and a half ago: it ends the bulk metadata program -- the bulk collection of phone records -- as it currently exists and puts in place new (fig leaves) reforms (to hide the fact that despite what Congress does or your president says, the NSA will continue to act with impunity because Congress doesn't really do oversight anyway.) The government will no longer hold these records; telephone providers will (be the government's complicit middlemen, or else they will face prosecution or other threats to their financial well-being). The Act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws -- including more (bullshit) transparency -- to help build confidence among (fool) the American people (into believing) that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected. But if Congress doesn’t act by midnight tomorrow, these reforms will be in jeopardy, too. (You're all gonna die.)

It doesn’t have to be this way. The USA Freedom Act reflects ideas from (surveillance state profiteers) privacy advocates, our private sector partners and our national security experts. It already passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming (politically corrupt) bipartisan support -- Republicans and Democrats. A majority of the (millionaire investor/lawmaker class) Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- have voted to move it forward.

 So what’s the problem? (with willingly giving up your civil rights so that a handful of plutocrats can continue making grotesque amounts of money off you) A small group of senators is standing in the way. And, unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points. (Pick the right team: Obama's) But this shouldn’t and can't be about politics. This is a matter of (money begetting power begetting more money begetting more power) national security. Terrorists like ( the American hegemon and multinational corporations) al Qaeda and ISIL aren’t suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow. And we shouldn’t surrender the (cold hard billions) tools that help keep (war profiteers) us safe. It would be (anti-capitalistic) irresponsible. It would be reckless. And we shouldn’t allow it to happen.

 So today, I’m calling on (spied-upon Americans) to join me in speaking with one (bleat) voice to the Senate. Put the politics aside. Put (the oligarchy) our national security first. Pass the USA Freedom Act -- now. And let’s protect the security and civil liberties of every American (9/11 boondoggle of a spy agency and private security contractor and the mega-rich people investing in same.) Thanks very much.
It's all about the money. As James Risen laid out in Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, the post 9/11 era has become a great marketplace of terror, in which we are simultaneously victims, culprits, and above all, consumers in a $4 trillion industry marrying the government, Hollywood and hyper-capitalistic private enterprise:
 The new Homeland Security-Industrial Complex.... is largely made up of a web of intelligence agencies and their contractors, companies that mostly provide secret services rather than large weapons systems and equipment. These contractors are hired to help Washington determine the scale and scope of the terrorist threat; they make no money if they determine that the threat is overblown or, God forbid, if the war on terror ever comes to an end.
It's no coincidence, as Risen and Top Secret America author Dana Priest have observed, that Washington DC and its suburbs have become the richest part of the country since 9/11, a true corporate welfare state employing millions of people in the high-growth Terror Industry. War is not only tolerable, it is desirable. The war on terror, Risen writes, has become a national stampede to the Beltway, the gold rush of the 21st century.

The only thing Barack Obama has to fear is the wrath of a relative handful of people who've gotten crazy-rich off death, fear, and destruction. His is the voice of a desperate man with a long, lucrative post-presidential life ahead of him and a foundation needing the endless flow of dollars from the same "folks" whose fat bank accounts he is now working so furiously to protect.

Obama Library: Estimated Cost, $500 Million

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Fire This Time: Black Youth and the Spectacle of Postracial Violence

By Henry A. Giroux

(Originally published in Truthout and reprinted with the kind permission of the author)

"Let's hope it isn't too late to listen, listen intently, carefully, minds open, hearts full. Let's hope." - James Baldwin.

In 1963, James Baldwin published an essay entitled "The Negro Child - His Self-Image," in The Saturday Review. Later celebrated as "A Talk to Teachers," his prescient opening paragraph unfolds with the following observation:
Let's begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone in this room is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced ... from within. To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible - and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people - must be prepared to "go for broke." (1)
 The killing of young Black men such as 16-year-old Kimani Gray, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 18-year-old Michael Brown, 22-year-old John Crawford III and 25-year-old Freddie Gray, among others, are part of a historical pattern of racial terror in which Black populations have been contained and controlled by so-called legitimate mechanisms of state violence. (2) Not only is a Black person killed by the police "every three or four days," but "the rate of police killings of Black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century." (3)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It's Spring In Frostburg...

... and a "Young" Man's Fancies Naturally Turn to...Economics and Religion

By Bill Neil


This will be one of my briefest “diary” postings, so cherish the moment. Some preliminaries are in order however.

I'm responding below, in the main text, to a column by Swedish economist Lars Syll, at the Real-World Economics website.  I'm allowed to comment there but not post articles since I am not a professional economist.  Hey, there’s a hierarchy even at good alternative economic sites.  Here at:  
And here's the bio on Lars...
I'm trying to talk the editors into allowing me to do a book review of Richard Smith's Green Capitalism: The God that Failed.  That's a story for another day, however.  Suffice it to say that apparently Smith’s book is too hot to touch for even these dissenting folks.  

So logically you might ask next, whose website is that, this Real-World Economics one, with the title implying that some other economists might not be living in “a,” or "the" real world, but an imaginary one (see below for details)?  

Well, the organization behind the website is the World Economics Association, a loose affiliation, as the song goes...with 13,500 members, founded in 2011, and it's safe to assume I think, that the force behind it was the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, the grand and emphatic failure of 99% of the economics profession to see it coming, and the general unhappiness with neoliberal and neoclassical economics among dissenting thinkers. 
Let's ground this organization with some founders and members whose names you might recognize:  Dean Baker, Herman Daly, James Galbraith, Steve Keen, Richard C. Koo, Richard Parker, Anne Mayhew, Stephany Griffith-Jones, Heiner Flassbeck, Yanis Varoufakis (the Greek Finance Minister)...Ann Pettifor, Robert Skidelsky (Keynes' biographer and a member of the House of Lords, "Lord" Skidelsky), Michael Hudson, Mark Weisbrot...Dani Rodrik, L. Randall Wray, Peter Radford, Geoffrey Hodgson, Immanuel Wallerstein…

I leave comments at the site from time to time as the various postings cross my own areas of interest or contemporary events... and what follows is my comment after Lars has discussed a revealing interview with Thomas Piketty, now famous author of Capitalism in the 21 Century.  Piketty is saying he doesn’t believe in basic neoclassical theory, although he will employ some of its terms to keep a dialogue going.  And here was my response:
“Good post Lars, thank you very much. Micro theory, “the margin this and the margin that,” always reminded me of the trouble I had following the higher reaches of geometry, where I was being asked to imagine lines, intersections, angles and spheres that were presented as common sense everyday renderings, as if that were the way I visualized the world, real and imagined. Of course some of it was based on the physical realities of everyday life; but it soon ascended into something quite remote and abstract…I always had the feeling of being led over a cliff, step by step, further and further from my comfort with a world that I could know and grasp. Power: who holds it and how does it shape economic theory? How silly! How mundane, grubby even, when we could be literally walking on air, out there, suspended on the micro world of neoclassical assumptions.  

I wonder if any readers here are familiar with Mark C. Taylor’s 2004 book, Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World without Redemption.  A fascinating author from Williams College and then Columbia, an atheist (or is it agnostic?  Atheist, I believe) head of the Religion Department and visiting professor of Architecture at Columbia, who handles economics with the best of the profession, having apparently drunk lots of coffee and other beverages across the table from some savvy inside players in the go-go “creative” world of investing and speculating that we all grew to love so much in the 1990-2007 era. (He's done a bit more than drink with hedgers, though, done a bit of reading and thinking I would venture...a bit of understatement’s the amazing bio:  )

Taylor is impossible to pigeon hole, he has no peer in the intellectual terrain he covers, and he is brilliant in helping us understand the grand hopes, Utopian hopes for the world of hedge funds as they developed: infinite leverage based on zero capital/collateral. An economic “perpetual motion machine.” Long Term Capital Management….chaos theory, “self-organizing, complex, highly networked systems,” then avalanches, and the Santa Fe Institute…it’s all there.

I’ve met one other person in my life who has read it. I still recommend it. 

And an additional thought to connect your post, Lars with Taylor’s Confidence Games, and the strange fact that here is a Religion department Chairman writing as fluidly about the most difficult parts of advanced economics as - well as… John Meriweather.

But here’s the thing: is not religion a vast extension, a vast series of walking out over the cliff based on a few fragments and hopes, a vast system built upon longings…economics has nicely filled the void for those who can no longer accept the old faiths…has assumed, among the powerful, the same role as consulting the auguries…whether it is built upon any more solid foundations, Lars is pointing out to us, as has Piketty,  what has been left out…the sociology of power, with just a hint that Marx was a better sociologist than economist…

And this delicious thought, that the Republican Right in the US is built upon a near religious intensity about the market and micro economics, and its alliance with the Religious Right, fundamentalists and the slightly more diverse evangelicals and their fierce intensities about matters religious and cultural…a strange alliance which buries class…for now…
Here’s Mark Taylor musing about the convergence of market fundamentalism and religion:

In the early twenty-first century, the world has become more complex than it has ever been and the rate of change continues to accelerate.  Many people still do not understand the far-reaching implications of this growing complexity.  Greater complexity brings more volatility and instability, which in turn create unavoidable uncertainty and insecurity.  As uncertainty and insecurity increase, there is an understandable desire for certainty, stability, and world order – be it new or old.  During the 1990’s, the longing for simplicity and clarity manifested itself in a resurgence of market fundamentalism… While claiming to be realists, these true believers imagine an ideal world at odds with the new realities emerging in network culture.  Their dream of a rationally ordered world where every risk can be hedged is as old as time itself.  All such schemes are designed to escape time and history and thereby overcome the inescapable insecurity of life.  In the final analysis, this dream is a religious vision in which the market is a reasonable God providentially guiding the world to the Promised Land where redemption finally becomes possible. 
That is not where we end up, however, not where markets are taking us.  No wonder James Galbraith notes in the Acknowledgements at the end of his latest book, The End of Normal – no,  he actually apologizes for his “fairly gloomy work…” -  for his having come to “these dire straits” of his “conclusions,” his recognition of Taylor’s world, a world finally “without redemption,” despite the Market Utopians. 

Bill Neil
Frostburg, MD 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Open Thread

I'm ba-a-a-a-ck. Well, sort of. Without going into specifics or gory details, I've had some fairly major surgery and just got home from the hospital yesterday.

As soon as I feel well and clear-headed enough to get back to blogging, I will. Meanwhile, please use this space -- or, as Obama would say, climb your ladder of opportunity to a level playing field to share links, opinions, etc. My only request is that you please not discuss your own health issues or mine in this forum. There are plenty of other places on the Internet to do that. This is a politics/culture blog.

That being said, I really do appreciate all the get-well wishes that so many of you have sent my way.

Additionally, if anybody would like to submit a longer guest post, now (the next week or so) would be an ideal time. I already have one, maybe two, in the hopper. Just send via email: I will be checking/answering emails with less frequency that I normally do, though.

Meanwhile, I wish all my readers a very safe and peaceful holiday weekend!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Opportunity Is the New Austerity

President Obama took a theatrically brave stance last week when he lambasted Fox News for using the horrible word "leeches" to describe poor people. 

Unfortunately, despite his indignant verbiage, this is not exactly the same thing as directly advocating for the poor themselves. Obama's words are a way to make liberals and MSNBC feel vindicated. It's a way to deflect our attention from this government's de facto war on the poor, and frame the media narrative into just one more he said-she said bickerfest between the two legacy parties. Just who on Fox called them leeches, and when, where, how, and why did they utter their foul words?!?! Fact-checkers immediately got to work. The score is Obama 1, Fox/GOP 0.

"Our" side won! Hooray for the Dems!

Barack Obama's staged concern-trolling during a panel discussion at Georgetown University succeeded unadmirably in turning a true national humanitarian crisis into a battle of personalities between Barack Obama and Bill O'Reilly. Both are multimillionaires, of course. Obama called out Fox pundits for poor-hating anyone owning an ObamaPhone. Fox pundits denied ever calling "the least among us" (Obama's folksy Biblical term for the lesser people) any such thing.

And lost in the shuffle are the actual suffering people "out there," beyond the Beltway. Lost are the Detroit residents who are getting their water shut off again this week because of their inability to pay. Lost are reports from myriad sources showing that the richest country on earth ranks near dead last in nearly all measurements of human well-being. According to the OECD, the US poverty rate is the highest in the developed world. And it has the most billionaires.

Yet what we heard about in the mainstream media was how Obama took umbrage over Fox taking umbrage over poor people's Obamaphones. No actual poor people participated, either by phone or in person with a seat at the round table.

Moreover, as is all too wearily typical of our pivoting president, Obama immediately cancelled out his righteous refreshing criticism of Fox News and greedy hedge fund managers by repeating some of the same right-wing talking points beloved of reactionaries and plutocrats and professional Beltway narrators (aka journalists.) 

For, despite glaring evidence that bipartisan neoliberal policies have been hollowing out the middle class and further immiserating the poor for decades -- while allowing the rich to get more bloated by the day -- he didn't actually criticize such concrete items as food stamp cuts and the end of long-term unemployment insurance....  or heaven forbid, his own job-destroying secret corporate coup attempts masquerading as trade treaties. He didn't actually call for taxing the rich, expanding Social Security or prosecuting the Wall Street crooks sucking us dry.  Because while throwing a bone to the populace over how incensed he, too, is over Fox Noise and the greed of CEOs and hedge fund managers, he also gave undeserved credibility and respectability to right wing sadists:
And there are a lot of folks here who I have worked with -- they disagree with me on some issues, but they have great sincerity when it comes to wanting to deal with helping the least of these.  And so this is a wonderful occasion for us to join together.
Yes, those folks from the Kochs' American Enterprise Institute, like panelist Arthur Brooks, are indeed greatly sincere in wanting to "deal with" helping the leastiest. The conservative elites are so damned noble for deigning not to deny that there are Lesser People breathing the same air as them. Wunnerful, wunnerful. Come together and let's give each other a great big hegemonic group hug, okay? And let's be careful not to jab each other with our American flag lapel pins.
Part of the reason I thought this venue would be useful and I wanted to have a dialogue with Bob and Arthur is that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men.  The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype.  And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and -- (laughter) -- think everybody are moochers.  And I think the truth is more complicated.
Did you get the little false equivalency there? If leftists who just want to insanely pour the entire US Treasury down the gullets of the poor are straw men for the Right, then so too are Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney and the entire Republican clown car naught but straw men for the Left! Paul Ryan's actual existence, his actual devotion to Ayn Rand, his actual belief that "everybody are moochers" (sic) are fantasies dreamed up by a bunch of crazy hippies who have no earthly idea what we are talking about. Bad progressives. Bad, bad progressives to not believe in the "culture" of willful poverty!
I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do.  And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.
The dream of false equivalency must never die. Even the rabid billionaire Murdochs of News Corp are forking over a few token hate-spawned millions to Obama's My Brother's Keeper philanthro-capitalist "initiative." Maybe it's because they interpret "keeper" as someone who owns other human beings and gets to keep them forever. More likely, it's to get a big fat Treasury refund check for make-believe profits temporarily lost in the corporate charity recycle bin.

But I digress. It seems to me that Obama is again calling for more public-private partnerships to substitute for a progressive reprise of such New Deal programs as the CCC and the WPA, and such Great Society programs as the Job Corps, whose budget he's recommended cutting. He agrees with the reactionary canard that dysfunctional families are just as much the causes of poverty as they are the victims of it. As David Brooks and the conservative punditocracy love to moralize, we have to get those indigent parenting skills improved!  Maybe government has some role, but not the whole role. The Free Market has already taken over education, infrastructure "maintenance", incarceration, pension funds, international aggression, even water supplies for the thirsty poor here at Home. Look how well that is working out.

 There will be no wealth redistribution on Obama's watch.(just in case you were still hoping, given the surge of the Warren Wing and the Pope's upcoming visit.)

But back to Obama's roundtable remarks. Here is that buzzword moment that I know all of you have been waiting for:
Now, that does not lessen our concern about communities where poverty remains chronic.  It does suggest, though, that we have been able to lessen poverty when we decide we want to do something about it.  In every low-income community around the country, there are programs that work to provide ladders of opportunity to young people; we just haven't figured out how to scale them up.
He should have just come right and said that the filleting of human flesh in a back room is fraught, with his main challenge being putting some anesthetizing freshness back in the stale populist rhetoric.

That is disingenuous to the EXTREME ( the extreme center). Obama, besides his failure to give up his addiction to buzzwords, hasn't figured out how to arm-twist Congress into appropriating more cash for the downtrodden as well as he does for re-appropriating the cash upwards, straight up into the pockets of the One Percent -- the political donor class. He's been working overtime to get fast track for the oligarchy through the Senate, even if it takes trashing the Warren Wing of his own party. Because the only party that counts is the Plutocratic Orgy.
And so one of the things I’m always concerned about is cynicism.  My Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough -- we take walks around the South Lawn, usually when the weather is good, and a lot of it is policy talk, sometimes it’s just talk about values. And one of our favorite sayings is, our job is to guard against cynicism, particularly in this town.  And I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do.  The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.
Not greed, not corruption. Cynicism. The image of Obama strolling around on a manicured sunshine-y lawn with the same guy who tried to keep the Senate Torture Report a secret from the public and strong-armed Congress to get the necessary redactions and protections for torturers, schmoozing about cynicism and values brings a tear to my eye and the bile up my throat. "Values" is another one of those neoliberal buzzwords designed to obscure rather than address actual issues. The president and his consigliere didn't plot, I gather, about how to raise teacher pay or strengthen labor unions. They talked about everybody's attitude problem.

Obama continued his poverty concern-trolling in his Weekly Address to the people, aka his weekly dog-whistle to Wall Street. I'm not going to parse the whole thing, just highlight the telltale buzzwords masking the true intent. "Creating Opportunity for All" is code for perpetuating austerity for the many and prosperity for the few. I'll point to more evidence after this partial parse-a-prez. The bolds are mine and meant to signify cynical dog-whistle meanings, or just outright meanness. Take your pick.
Hi, everybody (fellow insiders of the Permanent Political Class). Everything we’ve done over the past six years has been in pursuit of one overarching goal: creating opportunity for all. (all rich people and political donors)
That sense (it's all in their heads of course) of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest (righteous rage) that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York. It has many causes -- from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted (what whiners; the beatings are all in their heads) by police – which means there’s no single solution. (how do you solve a problem like Maria, the flibbertigibbet!) But there are many that could make a different (sic) and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country’s promise real for everyone willing to work for it. (promise is meaningless and undefined, but even so, the moochers will have to work for ephemera until they drop.)

Oh, That Towering Unfairly Targeted Feeling
  That’s why last Tuesday, at a summit organized by Catholics and evangelicals, I sat down with a conservative scholar and a poverty expert for a discussion on what it takes to open more doors of opportunity.(precursors to the ladders of opportunity leading to Heaven.)
 We know our efforts matter: since 1967, we’ve brought poverty down by about 40 percent, thanks in part to programs like Social Security and the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families. (mention of income inequality is studiously avoided)  And we know that there are folks from all faiths, and across the ideological spectrum, who care deeply about “the least of these.” So I hope this conversation continues, not as a question of whether, but of how, we can work together to grow opportunity. Because it’s not words, but deeds, that make a difference. (So let's continue conversing amongst our elite selves and forget about the deed-doing for the time being. Sheesh)
 Of course, lack of opportunity is not the only barrier between too many of our young people and the kind of future they deserve. On Monday, I’ll travel to Camden, New Jersey, a city that has faced one of the highest violent crime rates in America. I’ll highlight some of the innovative things they’ve done to help police do their jobs more safely and reduce crime in the process. And I’ll highlight steps all cities can take to maintain trust between the brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line, and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect.(insert your own &$^)*^%???!!! here).
The reason that I slugged this post Opportunity Is the New Austerity is because notorious deficit hawk billionaire Pete Peterson (known for the Fix the Debt campaign for Social Security and Medicare cuts and for funding Obama's infamous and discredited Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission) is hosting his annual austerian Fiscal Summit in This Town on Tuesday. Guess what this year's theme is?

The usual plutocratic cast of usual suspects will meet to converse about what a shame it is to be poor, but that does not take away from the serious fiscal "challenges" that the indigent must and will face so that the rich may prosper and tinkle down all those golden drops of delight. Apparently, there are many doors to be entered, many ladders to hoist ourselves up on. But not for them:

 Opportunity for America will focus on the need and the opportunity to strengthen America’s fiscal foundation, in order to ensure we have the resources to invest in our own future and build a prosperous and inclusive economy for the next generation. (our trust fund kids) This is the opportunity for America.
Wow. Opportunity will focus on Opportunity will focus on Opportunity. Godzillionaire ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg will take the opportunity to be there. So will Ayn Rand fanboy and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. So will former Bush chief of staff Andy Card and former Obama chief of staff William "Morgan Stanley" Daley. A Who's Who of simpering Washington Press Corpse hacks will be on hand to moderate The Conversation (TM), live on C-Span. But strangely absent, for the very first time in the Summit's history, will be Mr. Welfare Reform himself, the one and only Bill Clinton. I wonder why he'd skip a confab extolling the virtues of rich people and bemoaning the absence of values in poor people while importuning them with all his opportunistic goodness?

Now, don't be cynical, hear? If we're going to Win the Future, we have to put our big boy/girl Opporsterity pants on. Made in a sweatshop not near you.

Throwing Us a Beaner in His Opporsterity Jeans: Nike/TPP Designer Edition

Friday, May 15, 2015

High Times At The Times

I mentioned in this blog's comments thread this past week that I've been trying to cut back on my Krugman habit. I've realized that smoking the Conscience of a Liberal brand was starting to make me feel a little peaked. Beating the rush to be among the first to publish a reader response to his columns was no longer giving me the mellow rush it once had. Because with his constant  defense of Obamacare, his constant railing against right wing ideological ignorance and stupidity instead of against the real menace of neoliberal corruption and greed, his willful ignorance of the wars and torture which he had once so valiantly condemned, PK was seriously beginning to harsh my mellow.

The man has been seriously phoning it in for a long time now. And yet, I can't quit him. It used to be that only David Brooks had the capacity to make me scream inwardly in silent, helpless rage as I tried to formulate a cogent response. I finally got over him. But now PK is making me nuts too.

I keep saying I'm going to give him up, but I am obviously hooked. Today I actually wrote two responses to his highly unoriginal but much-clicked piece lambasting Jeb Bush for being the asshole that he is.

 Krugman joined the vast liberal chorus expressing shock, shock I tell you, that Jeb flip-flopped on Iraq and not only that, he hid behind the Sacred Troops to do so! He is the only slimy politician who has ever cravenly hidden behind the troops in the whole history of slime. As a result, there has been an epidemic of columns and blog-posts expressing Jeb-Shock in just the past couple of days alone. You can find the echo chamber here, here, here, and here among the 75,000 Google search results on the Great Jeb Bush Iraq Flip-Flop of 2015.The shock schlock has surpassed even that on the Senate vote giving President Obama carte blanche to fast-track democracy to oblivion. When you have Jebbie to kick around, the global corporate coup takes a back seat, pronto. 

Here's today's Krugman sampler:
Given how badly these (Bush-era) predictions turned out — we had the biggest housing bust in history, inflation paranoia has been wrong for six years and counting, and 2014 delivered the best job growth since 1999 — you might think that there would be some room in the G.O.P. for economists who didn’t get everything wrong. But there isn’t. Having been completely wrong about the economy, like having been completely wrong about Iraq, seems to be a required credential.
What’s going on here? My best explanation is that we’re witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism.
Yes, how about that awesome growth last year in service sector jobs with the lousiest pay in years and the most extreme wealth inequality ever and the plummeting of Obama's America to near rock-bottom in every measure of social and economic well-being. Tribalism? What tribalism?

No matter that all the "wrongs" have been extended and perpetuated in a Democratic administration. The blanket surveillance continues. The wars continue. The government secrecy continues. The political bribery continues. Mass incarceration continues. Coddling of the wealthy continues. The war on whistle-blowers has surged. CIA torturers are not only shielded from prosecution, they're promoted.

As the late great Molly Ivins warned in Bill of Wrongs: "Pay attention, America! Your ass is on the line!"

My first response to Krugman's Democratic Party-absolved "Fraternity of Failure":
Jeb should take a tip from his rival and limit his utterances to scripted videos and Tweets. Hillary Clinton hasn't taken a question from the press in nearly a month and just look at her -- she is sitting pretty and inevitable, while Jeb is the deserving winner in this week's edition of the Scorn Sweepstakes.

If nothing else, Neoliberal Death Match will be fodder for a revival of the best-selling "Bushisms" series. His candidacy is a tragicomedy about how the inbred psychopathy and ill-gotten wealth of just one family manages, against all odds, to continue infecting a whole party, a whole country, an entire planet.

So let's take W's advice of "bring it on" and apply it lavishly to Jeb. If the scorn is lathered on early, often and copiously, who knows? He might even decide to drop out to spend more time with his money. After all, he did once tell the Miami News Times his ultimate goal in life: "I want to be very wealthy."

Stranger things have happened. Mistakes can sometimes be unmade, even if you're a Bush.

 Then again, pathological stubbornness is also a pesky Bush trait. W's "Is our children learning yet?" apparently doesn't apply to Jeb. The charter school he founded in a poor black Florida neighborhood received a grade of D and was ultimately shut down. But he still thinks he's a successful education reformer, and so do a lot of other enabling and mistaken rich people.

Mistakes were made. And then one day we woke up, and found that we lived under an oligarchy.
Due to my un-PC inclusion of the plutocratic Democratic candidate in an anti-Bush screed, I didn't get as many thumbs-up as I usually do from The Tribe, or even remotely as many as the thoughtful commenter who gushed,  "Wahoo!! Kicking it, PK!! Good job!! I'll forgive the reduction in blogs of late!! Two of your last three have been two of my favorites."

(You can tell that Campaign Season has now revved up into high gear. Wahoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But as I depressively scanned other reader comments, I came across this blazing ray of sanity from Paul Cohen of Hartford, CT:
To Commenters and off topic,

I’ve written PRK and asked why he won’t you speak out against our perpetual wars in the Muslim World- all wars of aggression? He cannot say well, I write about issues affecting economic policy.

He wrote an op-ed in 2009 urging an investigation into torture- part of the broader issue of holding those in government accountable to the rule of law- that was purely political and no economic issues mentioned:

Op-Ed Columnist
Forgive and Forget?
By PAUL KRUGMAN on investigating Torture
January 15, 2009

Krugman is the very visible face and outspoken voice of Liberal politics. I cannot imagine Krugman is in favor of our open-ended, pre-emptive wars of aggression.

Am I the only that feels this way?
To which I replied, 
No. you are not the only one who feels that way. PK functions as the "left" voice in New York Times Pundit World, meaning contained. for the most part, within the safe confines of the Democratic Party. While he occasionally expresses disappointment with Obama's inadequate stimulus and his pivot to deficit reduction/austerity in the first term, he largely confines his columns to defending Obama (mainly Obamacare) against the vile depredations of the Republicans, or just shooting Republican fish in a barrel. PK's strong anti-war stance during the Bush era is now MIA, despite the fact that Obama is largely continuing Bush's aggressive policies.

Obama's record on civil liberties is even worse than Bush's: more drone strikes, more whistle-blower prosecutions of government employees, accelerated wars and ruthless defense of the surveillance state.

Don't even get me started on PK's recent radio silence (except for one short blog-post) on the TPP, which besides being a scam to protect wealthy investors and corporations from the sovereign regulations of mere countries, is also an act of aggression against China (the euphemized "pivot to Asia.")
I miss Bob Herbert and Frank Rich.
(I will get to the Great Obama vs Fox News Poor People Troll-orama soon, I promise.)

In other breaking viral news, Bill and Melinda Gates have announced that "Autopsies Can Save Countless Lives." Wahoo!!!!!!!!  But will Obamacare cover your post-mortem out of network? Is death a pre-existing condition? Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

That Uppity Pope

The oil and gas industry thinks that Pope Francis is getting too big for his cassock. The Kochs, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, BP and their whole coterie of climate change-denying think tanks are tightening their collective sphincter in anticipatory dread of the Pope's upcoming major encyclical on the environment. His global warning to mankind will be followed this fall by his address to a joint session of congress.

 I wonder if the neoliberal pols will dare pull a police state union stunt and turn their backs on the Pope as he calls them out on their selfishness and capitalistic greed. I wonder if John Boehner will turn a brighter shade of orange as he is forced to take a public back seat directly behind a religious leader who accepts science as fact.

Environmentalists, stung by the recent betrayals of Barack Obama, the self-described environmental president (Atlantic and Arctic oil drilling now, tepid pollution reductions way down the road), are all excited by both the encyclical and the Pope's upcoming visit to the United States.

Despite the propaganda of so-called militant atheists, organized religion does not have a built-in anti-science bias. There is an organization called the National Religious Partnership for the Environment  which draws its membership from across the denominational spectrum to spread the message that environmental justice, social justice and economic justice are inextricably intertwined. Evangelicals love clean water and hate methane emissions as much as secular humanists do. Rationality and religion are not mutually exclusive.

This is making the God-fearing climate denialists' heads explode in paroxysms of cognitive dissonance. Therefore, like any fringe cultists worth their salt, they are tweaking their doctrine just enough to adjust to the changing times and a Pope who doesn't hail from the same right wing universe as they do. The heartless Heartland Institute, for example, now claims that he is not scientific enough to know whereof he speaks. Oil and gas magnates sent a group of their scientists-for-hire  all the way to the Vatican last month to issue a prebuttal to the Pope. Their main beef, though, is that he is teaming up with their other nemesis, the United Nations, in order to spread the scientific gospel. They're sounding the alarm against climate alarmism, and spending millions of tax-exempt dollars to do it. They get their tax-exempt 501 (C)3 "charity" money from the billionaire Koch Brothers, among others. They were recently outed in what's become known as ClimateGate: a group of scientists were exposed as deliberately lying for cash money. They're a nasty bunch, even going so far as to threaten to sue those who dare publicize their chicanery.

So now they think they have the Pope on the ropes? This ought to be good, coming as it does when the GOP Clown Car (which, due to rapid overcrowding, should probably be upgraded to the GOP Clown Recreational Vehicle) will be in full, grinding, dissonant gear.

The Heartland Institute has put its own financial backing into the presidential campaign of college dropout Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. They're calling it Operation Angry Badger. But although they might get their sadistic kicks out of badgering people and popes,  they're really nothing but a bunch of wretched weasels.

Open Thread

Or, as they say in the free trade biz, a progressive playing field of opportunity and wonder and surprises galore.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Obama's Snafu

 *Updated below.

The giant middle finger that Barack Obama has been giving us these past six years is now dangling at the root, the victim of its own terminal corruption. And yet he and his sycophants persist in downgrading yesterday's crumbling of the "pillar of his presidency" into an annoying little hangnail.

"It's just a procedural snafu," whined Josh Earnest, the aptly named White House press flack of the "stinging defeat" Obama suffered from members of his own party, who shockingly denied him the right to "fast-track" democracy into oblivion via the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

If you want to get Panglossian about it, Snafu (situation normal, all fucked up)  is slightly better than Fubar (fucked up beyond all recognition.) And, let's face it: the Democrats of the Senate did not suddenly go all populist overnight, despite the good work of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in exposing the TPP for the nasty corporate coup that it is. The Dem poobahs (Reid, Schumer, etc.) were pissed because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled a fast one on them, and didn't include the fig leaves (currency manipulation rules, monetary aid for displaced American workers, feeble union protections, and anti-child labor measures) that would otherwise have allowed Democrats to sell out their constituents. These people actually still love the TPP. Most of them don't even care about those odious investor state tribunals replacing sovereign court systems.

What makes the TPP now so Fubar and so toxic for the selfish interests of the oligarchs is that Japan, one of the countries negotiating the deal, is adamantly against any TPP clause forbidding it to manipulate its own currency. Barack Obama is damned if he does go along with Democratic demands, and damned if he doesn't.

Hot damn!

Another reason that the TPP may now be Fubar is that people are finally paying attention to it. And Barack Obama has only himself to blame. He has essentially fingered himself and the neoliberal agenda, for all the world to see.

  If he hadn't publicly and pettily dissed Elizabeth Warren, falsely and chauvinistically accusing her of greed and mendacity, the gossip-loving mainstream press probably wouldn't have bothered with the TPP story.

 His trip to Offshore Sweatshop Central (Nike) last week didn't help his pro-plutocracy public relations campaign, either. Nor did his simultaneous announcement allowing Shell to drill for oil in the ecologically fragile Arctic. Nor did his onslaught of fund-raising for his half-a-billion-dollar Chicago shrine, and his announcement of a sketchy greed-washing "initiative" that would raise money by and for corporations for the ostensible purpose of trickling down to the same minority poor people that Obama's Wall Street-friendly policies have already thrown under the economic bus.

Even Obama's most diehard fans are at least mildly peeved and disappointed with him at this stage. He has skipped Lame Duck mode entirely, prematurely careering straight into Post-Pre$idency Clintonoid Nirvana.

Despite yesterday's heartening victory, we must not rest on our laurels. These people don't quit, and they don't take No for an answer. But their greedy quest for more, more and more suddenly got a whole bunch of new roadblocks in its way, and their journey is not going to be the walk in the privatized park they thought it would be.

Sunlight is still the best disinfectant.


Before yesterday's Senate vote, the New York Times published an odious little editorial that urged the parties to go along to get along and bipartisanly compromise on the TPP, including whatever fig leaves are necessary to ram it through. Needless to say, readers were neither amused nor placated. My comment:

How is a compromise possible on a treaty whose terms are being kept from the public? How is this possible when the White House has threatened to prosecute any member of Congress who divulges details they are allowed to scan only under the watchful eye of the Security State?

Rather than urge a smarmy bipartisan compromise under cover of darkness, I just wish the N.Y. Times had noted how undemocratic this whole process has been. The only reason we know some of the details we do is because of WikiLeaks.

The clause allowing investor state tribunals to subsume sovereign court systems even contains a sub-clause dictating that it remain a classified secret for at least four years from the date of ratification. That's how bad it is. That's how much the billionaires and corporations dictating the terms of this deal know how bad it is, and how much we would hate it if we were allowed to know about it.

As Margot Kaminski of Yale's Information Society Project wrote in a Times op-ed last month, fast track authorization is "little more than a euphemism for Avoid the public, and benefit the fortunate few."

The citizens of the 11 other countries are standing against the secret TPP as well. They're also worried, and rightly so, that multinational corporations headquartered in the US will quickly ignore any labor protections for their low-wage workers built into the agreement as a fig leaf to ease passage.

Free trade agreements kill -- economically, socially, and literally.


It was all pretty much a head fake. We are now back to full-bore Fubar, and Barack Obama has put his damaged middle finger in a splint, the better to screw you with, my dears. The Washington Post reports that the men in a room have reached their deal and agreed to make the currency manipulation a separate bill, thus ensuring that any final TPP package would be acceptable to Japan. Obama must be so relieved.

 The Democrats apparently also got a grudging concession from Republicans on compensation for the American workers becoming collateral damage in the latest attack in the class war -- if and when the TPP and TTIP make corporations free to further depress wages and exploit those abused workers in already ill-protected countries like Vietnam.

So, after yesterday's Kabuki, the full Senate will start their show over with a Thursday matinee, with multiple melodramatic bravura performers vying for attention and lobbyist dollars in the first act of the Plutocrat Grand Prix Theater. Watch those phony plastic traffic cones begin falling like dominoes.

Just more evidence, in case you still needed any, that the much ballyhooed and bemoaned Congressional gridlock the pundits love to kvetch about only applies to measures that might benefit the little people. I hope you didn't waste any of your time today calling your Group of Ten senators with your premature thanks for their phony stance yesterday. I hope you will continue to bombard them with warnings of what they can expect at the ballot box as they "cave" to giving the center-right president authority to turn the screws in utter secrecy. The first tranche of Democratic quislings includes Carper of Delaware, Cantwell and Murray of Washington, Wyden of Oregon, Nelson of Florida, Warner and Kaine of Virginia, Bennet of Colorado, Heitkamp of North Dakota and Cardin of Maryland. These are all Obama needs to supplement the loyalists in his own Republican Party.

Meanwhile, members of the House are expected to vote on Fast Track as early as next month. Get ready for another stampede of lobbyists to make those hordes of holdouts an offer they can't refuse.