Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hasta La Vista, 2015

So, I was having this problematic conversation with my fellow stakeholders of the gene pool about the price point of all the food gracing the holiday dinner table, and Donald Trump was in the background vaping his own fumes in his latest presser and breaking the Internet in the process,  and I was doing my pathetic best to avoid the awful physicality of my manspreading drunk cousin who only succeeded  in dribbling the secret sauce out of his flapping maw as he tried to walk back his insults by spewing inanities that he thought would give me life.


So, yes, fellow Sardonickists, it is possible to put all the Banished Words of 2015 into one nightmare sentence.

From the Word Police of Lake Superior State University comes the latest list of words (bolded above) that people are sick of saying, hearing, and reading.
Answering a question with the article "so" is just one of a dozen forms of wordplay that made it onto LSSU's 41st annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. The tradition created by the late W. T. Rabe, former public relations director at Lake Superior State University, is now in its fifth decade. Compilers hope this year's list will be so popular that it will break the Internet.
“Overused words and phrases are ‘problematic’ for thousands of Queen's English ‘stakeholders,’” said an LSSU spokesperson while ‘vaping’ an e-cigarette during a ‘presser.’  “Once something is banished, there's no ‘walking it back;’ that's our ‘secret sauce,' and there’s no ‘price point’ for that.”
Rabe and fellow LSSU faculty and staff came up with the first list of words and phrases that people love to hate at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975, publishing it on Jan. 1, 1976. Though he and his friends created the first list from their own pet peeves about language, Rabe said he knew from the volume of mail he received in the following weeks that the group would have no shortage of words and phrases from which to choose for 1977. Since then, the list has consisted entirely of nominations received from around the world throughout the year.
So the word that is most hated this year is So. Not in the sense of "OMG, I am so not liking Donald Trump," but rather, the way that politicians and other annoying people have of beginning the answer to every question with the word "So" as a more genteel replacement for "Um," "Er" or "Duh" -- in other words, So is a verbal trigger warning that informs you that you are about to be microaggressed.

Here is an example:

Reporter: Mr. President, is it true that you ordered the NSA to spy on American citizens?

Prez: So, as I have said many times before, the privacy of my friends is very important to me. But I welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about their civil rights with the stakeholders. It will really give me, and my last year in office, some legacy-burnishing life. What price point liberty, after all, you ridiculous little So and So.

So, with that, here is wishing all of you a very non-problematic 2016. Thank goodness there is no walking back 2015, unless it is to read all those horrendous Listicles breaking the Internet.

See you next year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perfect Stormtroopers

 Tim McGinty acted more like he was auditioning for The Weather Channel than doing his job defending "the people" as Cuyahoga County prosecutor. He explained away the assassination of 12-year-old Tamir Rice the same way that an oil company executive might explain away climate change: by cynically feigning ignorance.

It seems that the November 2014 Cleveland police killing of a child is just like Hurricane Sandy. Although both were obviously horrific, both were completely understandable, natural disasters. Crap just happens sometimes, soothed McGinty in announcing his grand jury's decision to exonerate the cop who shot Tamir for the "crime" of possessing a toy gun while black.

"It was a perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications," he pronounced at a Monday press conference, coinciding perfectly with Christmas vacation time and some really horrific winter storms that are helping to keep protesters off the nation's streets.

The officer, another Timmy with the last name Loehmann, had absolute reason to fear for his life as a black boy reached for his toy gun, insisted the prosecutor. McGinty forgot to mention that Loehmann has previously been fired from another police department for emotional lability issues, before being welcomed with open arms by the Kleveland Kops Klan.

From the New York Times:
The case began when a caller to 911 said a male was pointing a gun at people in a Cleveland park. The caller added that the gun was “probably fake,” and that the person waving it was “probably a juvenile.” But those caveats were not relayed to Officer Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car. Officer Loehmann, who is white, opened fire within seconds of arriving at the park. Officer Garmback was also spared any charges.
The shooting in Cleveland came just two days before a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict a white police officer in Ferguson who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. The Ferguson case became one of a series of police killings that drew protests — in New York, Baltimore, North Charleston, S.C., and other cities — by demonstrators denouncing the way the police treat African-Americans.
McGinty said the benefit of the doubt should always be given to police officers who often make split-second decisions about whether to kill people. If Loehmann felt in his own paranoid brain that a child presented a threat to him, then too bad for that child.

Tamir Rice's family and civil rights leaders had long suspected the grand jury no-bill of the officers, given that the prosecutor had drawn out the "investigation" for well over a year, combing the nation for the few experts who would eventually agree that the killing was justified. Even before the grand jury decision, he released his exculpatory findings to the public, setting the stage for Monday's announcement. As was the case in the Staten Island, N.Y. panel which "investigated" the police choke-hold death of Eric Garner, the closed grand jury procedure took the place of a public trial. The officers were never subject to cross-examination. No attorneys were allowed to defend Tamir Rice's rights.

Meanwhile, pending results of another internal review, Loehmann and his partner remain employed by the department, albeit on "restricted" duty.

The usual platitudes from the usual subjects have ensued. Ohio Gov. and flailing presidential candidate John Kasich admonished "those people" to "not give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us." He might as well have ordered the denizens of Cleveland to embrace their local police state.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, meanwhile, is nobly cutting short his Cuba vacation by a day or two in order to issue more platitudes regarding his own city's latest police assassinations of two more black people. "He will continue the work of restoring accountability and trust," smirked one of his minions.

While still basking in the Cuba sunshine before nobly cutting his vacation short, Emanuel managed to garble out this clumsy preliminary platitude: "Anytime an officer uses force, the public deserves answers and regardless of the circumstances we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city." (thereby effectively reducing the homicides of a student and grandmother to an everyday natural occurrence.)

The fact that the younger shooting victim, Quintonio Le Grier, had mental health issues should also weigh heavily on Emanuel's alleged conscience. As Kari Lyndersen laid out in her exposé, Mayor One Percent, Emanuel had no qualms about dispatching his police thugs to quash protesters fighting against his closure of six of the city's mental health clinics in 2013. The cops have always had their tacit marching orders from his administration. 

And just because Obama's Justice Department has Chicago police tactics on its investigatory agenda is no guarantee of justice. Look at what's been not happening in Cleveland. Only two weeks after the Tamir Rice killing, the DOJ issued a very tepid report on the murderous cop culture in that Ohio city, following yet another tepid report chastising endemic police violence a full ten years prior to that. In both reports, the Justice Department took extra care to put partial blame on the victims of violent cop culture and urged everybody to just try to get along in the future.

"All of the residents of the city of Cleveland should recognize... that many Cleveland officers have pursued their profession in order to effect positive changes within the City and they make great personal sacrifices to do dangerous work.... Respect and trust must go both ways," hectored the DOJ report to "those people."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Be afraid of Isis over there, and that way you won't have to be afraid of the Police State over here. Go see Star Wars, and may the make-believe Force Be With You as you learn to accept without question the justifiable force of your neighborhood perfect stormtroopers.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Playlists and Slayrides

I realized that the holiday news hole was a great big gaping maw when President Obama's release of his playlist of Christmas tunes stopped the presses right in their tracks. The cool president is into cool jazz! Who knew?

White House Christmas playlists: Did Obama and Biden choose ...

Christian Science Monitor-Dec 24, 2015
President Obama's playlist confirms that he 'is the only American president you could reliably trust to DJ a party.' Joe Biden's list is, well, just so ...
Listen on Spotify: The Obamas' and Bidens' Holiday Playlists
Highly Cited-The White House (blog)-Dec 23, 2015
With These Spotify Playlists, the Obamas and Bidens Have ...
Blog-Wall Street Journal (blog)-Dec 23, 2015
Explore in depth (289 more articles)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So while I was exploring the Obama Family's tunes in depth, there came with a clatter the much less cool news that his administration also chose Christmas Week to announce that hundreds of Central American refugee families are to be raided and deported within weeks or even days. As we speak, Homeland Security is out there in force, spotifying all those asylum-seekers and ruining their celebrations.

 Who would ever have guessed that Obama, right after enthusing that A Charlie Brown Christmas was his absolute fave, and right after announcing the deportations, could then be so utterly cynical as to utter these unctuous words during his annual Yuletide greeting?
Today, like millions of Americans and Christians around the world, our family celebrates the birth of Jesus and the values He lived in his own life. Treating one another with love and compassion. Caring for those on society’s margins: the sick and the hungry, the poor and the persecuted, the stranger in need of shelter – or simply an act of kindness.
That’s the spirit that binds us together – not just as Christians, but as Americans of all faiths. It’s what the holidays are about: coming together as one American family to celebrate our blessings and the values we hold dear.
Talk about pulling away the Charlie Brown football! It seems that Obama and his team don't view families fleeing drug and gang violence in organized crime/CIA/DEA-destabilized countries (just like Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus fleeing Herod) as victims deserving of shelter. Ditto for Hillary Clinton, fresh off her own truncated tour as Everybody's Abuela (Mexican grandma.) The audiences laughed her right off the figurative stage, because they don't care for being "Hispandered" to. Plus, the campaign publicity shot of "Abuela Hillary" reading to children looks more like a torture chamber than a cozy grandmotherly bonding session. She seems incapable of making eye contact with her bored little subjects-in-bondage, even for crass propaganda purposes.

She reads to you before bedtime … 

Hasta La Vista, Baby!
 At least Obama has the sense not to call himself Tío Bendito as he rounds them up and kicks them all out while the tinsel is still fresh on the tree. He's always been more godfatherly than avuncular that way. As he schmoozed to Katie Couric during his first campaign, the sexy Marlon Brando-ish combination of "gentility and savagery" is what really turns him on, is what he really strives to emulate. He comes right out and admits that his idea of a cool family is the Mafia. This clip should help you understand what he means, exactly, when he talks about Family Values:

Although Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have both immediately condemned Obama's mass rub-outs deportations, Hillary has stayed mum.... grandly mum. But like Boss Obama, she has always been savagely critical of "irresponsible" desperate parents who've chosen to send their kids to El Norte in lieu of them getting raped or killed by gangs and paramilitary thugs. Those moms and dads and abuelas have to be sent a sternly worded message. Hillary even championed the imprisonment of women and children in Homeland Security "family detention centers" until Bernie Sanders  introduced a bill last summer to close them, and she was forced to don her flip-flops once again. Even then, it wasn't the refugees' freedom that she was espousing. It was their expulsion
 Now I think we have a different problem,” she said. “Because the emergency is over, we need to be moving to try to get people out of these detention centers, particularly the women and children. I think we need more resources to process them, to listen to their stories, to find out if they have family in this country, if they have a legitimate reason for staying. So I would be putting a lot of resources into doing that, but my position has been and remains the same.”  (send them all back.)
As a matter of fact, it was the judicially-ordered release of the detainees from these gulags earlier this year that convinced Obama that if he can't lock them up, he'll just have to kick them out. Even the ankle bracelets he fitted them out with (at their own expense, with jewelry rentals payable to the private prison industry) didn't give him the peace of mind that he so obviously craves. Aiding the poor and the persecuted apparently has limits, even for him. Especially during an election year, when corporate Democrats think they have to act as tough and monstrous as the Republicans in order to get angry white people to the polls.

 Heaven forbid that Donald Trump should steal the genteel, savagely responsible scapegoat vote away from Hillary Clinton.

Menage a Trois in Happier Days

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wassailing the Wealthy (Redux)

Despite all the toil and strife, dare I hope that there is renewed cause for optimism as 2015 grinds to a close? His name is Bernie Sanders, and he is the first presidential candidate since FDR to burst upon the scene and welcome Wall Street's hatred with open arms. His op-ed demanding financial reform in today's New York Times should have the plutes wailing all the way to the slopes of Aspen, drowning out the polluting noise of their own private Lear Jets.

In the spirit of the (hopefully) coming socialist revolution, here's an expanded and updated version of my Christmas post from last year:

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

Key word: traditionally. Because according to government studies, the charity coffers are dwindling and fewer of us are reaching out to our fellow human beings in these hard times. In sixteen out of the twenty categories measured in 2013, the levels of social engagement by Americans have plummeted. People were either too busy working multiple minimum wage jobs, or they were too depressed about their worklessness to feel able to extend themselves. Volunteerism, as well as average household wealth, has dropped precipitously since the Great Meltdown of '08. An estimated two million fewer Americans volunteered last year than they did in 2012.

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

Here's a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that the volunteerism rate dropped precipitously during the misbegotten reign of Bush the Younger, recovered somewhat at the onset of Barack Obama's second term, and is now sliding once again:

 According to the BLS, volunteerism is now at its lowest point since the agency started keeping statistics in 2002. The rate of "highly educated" volunteers is decreasing more than in any other demographic group.

A survey by Gallup reveals that while charitable giving increased worldwide last year, it fell in the United States, now the wealth disparity capital of the advanced world. The proportion of Americans who reported making a charitable donation decreased from 68% to 63% Nonetheless, the US is still far more generous than most: 
Despite its 12th place rank in giving, the United States retained the index’s designation as the most generous country in the developed world, with relatively high marks in helping strangers (third place) and volunteerism (sixth place).
Worldwide, the United States stood second overall behind Myanmar, where, the report says, the traditions of the overwhelmingly predominant Theravada branch of Buddhism lead to high rates of giving and volunteerism. More than 92 percent of Myanmar survey respondents reported donating money.
 But wait. The professional philanthropy/donor class is becoming ever more selective in its own generosity. The extremely rich are wont to "invest" in places rather than in causes and people, and insist that their charity be tax-deductible. They tend to give to the arts, to medical research (the rich get sick, too) and elite institutions of higher learning. They give to politicians via secretive "charity" slush funds. They give to each other's money-laundering family foundations. They set up charitable LLCs to protect their untaxed wealth. Living, breathing human beings who are not part of one's dynasty are not tax deductible  -- they are, however, eminently disposable. Charities such as the Salvation Army and United Way, that give aid more or less directly to the poor, are really hurting this year.

Charles Dickens had a description for the narrow-minded charity of the elites. He called it  "telescopic philanthropy."

In Bleak House, his satiric masterpiece on social class and greed and the evil that men do, one of the most memorable minor characters is Mrs. Jellyby. In her ostentatious zeal to concern-troll the denizens of a far-away African backwater, she neglects her own home and children. Mrs. Jellyby is the Victorian fictional counterpart of such modern-day philanthrocapitalists as Bill Gates and the Clinton Family, who set their sights on largely foreign, arcane initiatives while the wealth disparity and poverty and misery in their own country are allowed to continue as their own rich selves only grow richer in the process.

Dickens's trenchant definition of this kind of self-serving charity is "rapacious benevolence."

"There were two classes of charitable people," he wrote, "the people who did a little and who made a great deal of noise; the other, who did a great deal and made no noise at all."

Mrs. Pardiggle, another obnoxious character in Bleak House, sounds eerily like the presidential candidate who never tires of boasting how tirelessly she works for "the struggling, the striving, and the successful." 
 "I do not understand what it is to be tired; you cannot tire me if you try!" said Mrs. Pardiggle. "The quantity of exertion (which is no exertion to me), the amount of business (which I regard as nothing), that I go through sometimes astonishes myself. I have seen my young family, and Mr. Pardiggle, quite worn out with witnessing it, when I may truly say I have been as fresh as a lark!"
And her staged visits with ordinary folk -- "great shows of moral determination and talking with much volubility" -- are at carefully vetted, focus-grouped events, with the poor people acting as mere props.
"Well, my friends," said Mrs. Pardiggle, but her voice had not a friendly sound, I thought; it was much too business-like and systematic. "How do you do, all of you? I am here again. I told you, you couldn't tire me, you know. I am fond of hard work, and am true to my word."
As Hillary Clinton also said, "It's not easy, it's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do." And, "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion." 

According to her official (auto) biography on the White House website, Hillary Clinton has "worked tirelessly on behalf of children and families" from the time she was a child herself. Her work ethic and stamina are the stuff of legend. Even after falling and breaking her elbow while Secretary of State, she returned to working tirelessly almost immediately. Anybody who doesn't realize that she never spares herself from her grueling schedule just hasn't been paying attention for the past 30 years. She must astonish even herself as she temporarily divests herself from her family's charitable foundation and travels the country, making a Great Noise about how much she cares.  

But enough about everyday Americans. What about those everyday benevolent raptors, aka the philanthrocapitalists? What are they up to this season of Yule for the wealthy, gruel for the rest of us?

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

The wealthy are great hiders and hoarders of their record wealth. As well they should be, given that the 80 richest people on earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world's population combined.

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

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

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

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

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

New York City Christmas Riot, 1806
In the mid-19th century, just as unfettered capitalism and the Industrial Revolution were gearing up with a vengeance, an Englishman named William Henry Husk departed from the bland God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen feel-goodism and repurposed the traditional Wassail carol to fit those particular hard times. He might have titled it "Soaking the Rich at Christmas." It was during this same magical era that Karl Marx was stirring things up with his revelations of the capitalist war on labor, and when Charles Dickens was sticking it to the greedy rich in his popular novels. The Scrooge-like forbears of the oligarchs of Kochtopia and Walmartistan were just as annoying then as they are now.

Here's what greeted Ebenezer Robber Baron back in the day:

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door.
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before.

Jo the street sweeper from Bleak House (Mervyn Peake)
  Tell that to Congress and the plutocrats who own the government. Our rulers have once again evoked the Ayn Rand Who Stole Christmas in order to fill the begging bowls of the too-rich by draining those of the less fortunate. The coal in recent stockings consisted of food stamp cuts and ending long-term unemployment insurance. The latest lumps for the Lumpen are pension cuts and transforming what's left of our savings into gambling chips for Wall Street casinos.

As Bill Moyers wrote in his eloquent Christmas essay
The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class – that powerful combine of corporate executives and superrich individuals whose money drives our electoral process. Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the president rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work. Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.
We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

We asked Santa for a tax on high speed trades. This relatively modest surcharge and some relatively modest affordable tax increases on the richest .01% would fund health care, highway improvements and public education. Helping those less fortunate -- now commonly known as the refugees from the middle class -- would help the rich, too. A rising tide lifts all yachts. It's time for some trickle-up. Hell, it's time for a geyser. We ordinary people have been stretched and bled dry enough.

So let's get on with the sarcasm, shall we?

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth
Bring us out a mouldy cheese
And some of your Christmas loaf.

It's not prime rib we want, but it would be nice if a few banksters went to jail for that subprime mortgage fraud. Just a slab of tainted cheese and some of that rock-hard fruitcake from last year to keep a little flesh on our ribs. A living wage of at least $15 to start would be nice, too. That thin Yule Gruel of platitudes and bootstrap-boosting Randian rhetoric just doesn't do it for us any more.

And while we're waiting for the inevitable revolution, here's one last rich-shaming stanza to tide you over:

Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.

Needless to say, this mildly socialistic version of the Wassail Song is probably not being piped through to plutocratic office parties. The various recorded versions still around are heavily bowdlerized. The mouldy cheese is transformed into "tasty" cheese in one rendition. In other version, the money for our purses is reduced to "a few coins." Nor is it likely to be heard on the automated loops of easy listening holiday tunes coming from a corporatized FM radio station studio devoid of any actual human wage-earning DJ. The Christmas music will be cut off precisely at the stroke of midnight on December 26th. That's when the annual mad stampede for the post-holiday sales and binge of gift returns will get underway.

This is not to say that actual Christmas caroling is not still around. You just have to know where to look for it. And look no further than the great American cultural center-cum-New Abnormal town square: the shopping mall. (or Galleria, if you prefer to be elite.) The voices are singing and the bells are ringing to get shoppers in the mood to spend and consume till they drop.

You can even find a modern version of the Wassail Bowl. It's over at the food court, and it's called a self-serve soda machine. And it'll cost you.

Cheers and happy holidays to Sardonickists everywhere!

P.S. And on a lighter note... If Bernie Sanders of Brooklyn ever goes wassailing, it'll probably sound something like this: 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Update: Those Other Terrorists

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for a criminal investigation into October's deadly US  bombing attack on a charity hospital, where the death toll has now reached at least 42. The destruction of the Médecins Sans Frontières facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan was so complete that an accurate death count has been impossible. Some victims were literally incinerated in their beds, while others remain buried beneath the rubble. Moreover, within a few days of the sustained bombing by an AC-130 gunship, American tanks had returned to the scene in order to level what had not already been crushed. 

Since the United States has thus far balked at subjecting itself to any outside scrutiny of its rampage, HRW has bluntly told Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the criminal inquiry must be conducted outside the usual chain of command. It seems that the One Indispensable Nation has a nasty habit of covering its ass in cases like this.

From the HRW press release:
Human Rights Watch analyzed information from the US military, MSF, and other sources and found that there is a strong basis for determining that criminal liability exists. Under the laws of war, hospitals have special protections from attack, and attacks on them can be war crimes.
“The attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz involved possible war crimes,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director. “The ongoing US inquiry will not be credible unless it considers criminal liability and is protected from improper command influence.”
Only a week ago came revelations in the New York Times that members of an elite Navy SEALs unit were promoted, rather than punished, for beating a group of men they had arrested. One of their victims later died.

 "It is essential that you publicly and explicitly clarify that ongoing investigations into the Kunduz attack include a thorough inquiry that considers the possible criminal liability of U.S. personnel, including at the command level," HRW's letter to Carter states. "We believe that there is a strong basis for determining that criminal liability exists.... We also call on you to take all necessary steps to ensure that the investigation is independent and not subject to undue command influence."

Carter, thus far, has even balked at releasing the full text of his own internal investigation, instead reducing his alleged findings to the usual "mistakes were made" whitewashing. A separate MSF petition for an outside international investigation was signed by half a million people and was hand-delivered to the White House a few weeks ago. There has still been no response from President Obama.

Where HRW itself falls short, in my view, is in its tepid suggestion that Ashton Carter name his own investigatory panel, to be called the "Consolidation Disposition Authority." That sounds all too coldly close to President Obama's own "Disposition Matrix" measurement for killing any person of military age, any time, any place, anywhere, whom he deems to present a vague existential threat.

And then there's the timing of Human Rights Watch's polite request: only a few days before Christmas, when nobody is paying too much attention to anything other than what they see on the news: in other words, the San Bernardino and Paris massacres, and pundits and candidates demanding ever more American terror strikes and bombings Over There in order to keep us all feeling secure, righteous, heavily armed and eternally paranoid Over Here.

 Donald Dumpf doesn't have the fascism market cornered at all. In case you still haven't heard, you won't just be electing a president. You'll be electing the commandant of the Wehrmacht. Cue Leni Riefenstahl:


Friday, December 18, 2015

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

 ** 12/20: Readers, please feel free to join the discussion on last night's debate in the comments section below.

  *12/19: Updated below

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through Times Square, they finally stopped joking 'bout Bernie's wild hair.

And much to my wondering eyes did appear a headline, above the New York Times homepage fold, containing the name of Bernie Sanders!

But wait. The article didn't mention Bernie's record two million donors, or his two major union endorsements until the very end, as a kind of afterthought. Rather, it gleefully spread the news that one of his campaign's workers* had "breached" a voter database belonging to President-designate Hillary Clinton. The only thing shocking about this news is that Hillary Clinton is actually allowed to own a bunch of our names. Our personal information has been collected and collated, possibly without our knowledge. Politicians are cyberstalking us, and then they have the nerve to get upset when a rival inadvertently uncovers their strategy and methods. Don't we have a say in all of this?

Very conveniently, a firewall set up by the Democratic National Committee was allowed to collapse just as the Sanders worker went on his computer. The DNC immediately pounced, barring the Sanders campaign from accessing any further voter information from its site.

This should tell us three things. First, that the DNC website is as much a bungled mess as Healthcare. gov. Second, that Hillary Clinton and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz are taking the Sanders campaign very seriously. They see the same polls and numbers that we do. If they weren't scared, they wouldn't give a shit about what some low-level Sanders staffer was doing with Hillary's precious information.

The third possibility is that the Sanders campaign was simply set up.

But for now, they are "disciplining" Bernie for the data breach, even while admitting that it was a software error of their own subcontractor's making that enabled the Sanders staffer to see what he couldn't later unsee. The poor peeper was summarily fired for peeking at Hillary's data.

From the Times piece by Maggie Haberman and Nick Corasanti: 
The Democratic National Committee has told the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that it was suspending its access to its voter database after a software error enabled at least one of his staff members to review Hillary Clinton’s private campaign data.
The decision by the party committee is a major blow to Mr. Sanders’s campaign. The database includes information from voters across the nation and is used by campaigns to set strategy, especially in the early voting states.
The breach occurred after a software problem at the technology company NGP VAN, which gives campaigns access to the voter data. The problem inadvertently made proprietary voter data of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign visible to others, according to party committee officials.
The Sanders campaign said that it had fired a staff member who breached Mrs. Clinton’s data. But according to three people with direct knowledge of the breach, there were four user accounts associated with the Sanders campaign that ran searches while the security of Mrs. Clinton’s data was compromised.
The timing of this news is exquisite, coming as it does on the very eve of the third primary debate among Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O'Malley. While Hillary might choose to not bring it up during the festivities, the publicity is at the very least designed to rattle Sanders' nerves as it implicitly impugns his heretofore spotless integrity.

Ironically, it was the Sanders campaign that has been warning the DNC about lax security on its digital databases.

Meanwhile, the Times is finally taking note that the Democratic debates are few and far between, compared to the nonstop GOP series of circus acts. Columnist Frank Bruni, for one, disingenuously wonders why he is just now hearing about this kick in the teeth to democracy. Maybe it's because he's been holding his fingers over his ears when he is not opening them wide to hear every blast of every Trump, Cruz, and Carly?  

My published response to the former restaurant critic/current horse-race style maven:
It's a little late for Frank Bruni to grouse over the Undemocratic Party specifically, and the demise of democracy generally.

By my count, since last June, he has written 6 columns devoted exclusively to Donald Trump, 3 on Ted Cruz, one on Carly Fiorina, one on Ben Carson, one on Scott Walker, and one on each of the four GOP debates. He's written 3 on Hillary, one of which inordinately praised her performance at the first and only weeknight Democratic debate.

He has written zero columns about Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley.

But Bruni is only part of the group-think pack which seems to have made a pact to either ignore Bernie, or to gently castigate him. ("he's unelectable, proles, because we say so!") This is regardless of the inconvenient truth that Bernie is more popular than Trump, and that a recent Quinnipiac poll has him beating Trump by a wider margin than Hillary.

Media Matters reveals that ABC is the worst, having devoted 81 minutes to coverage of Trump, to Sanders' 8 seconds.

Over the past month there have been 22 Sanders headlines in the NYT and 64 in the Post, while Trump got 145 headline mentions in the NYT and 535 64 in the Post:

Here's a challenge to Frank Bruni. Break away from the Group-think Pack and devote an entire column (serious and issues-centered, not snarky) to Bernie. Your readers will thank you.
(In retrospect, I should probably have been more careful what I wished for. More rapid than eagles, let the prancing and the pawing begin. Stay tuned for some very serious commentary about the Great Bernie Breach, or How Hillary Got Hacked.) 

* The worker was not a low level naif, as I'd originally surmised. He was, in fact, Josh Uretsky, Bernie's national digital data director. Uretsky told MSNBC that his breach of Hillary's info was an intentional way of alerting the DNC about how effed up their security is, comparing it to leaving a friendly note in the hallway of a homeowner who'd stupidly left his door open. That is a pretty poor analogy, in my opinion. He should have compared it to staying on the premises till Hillary and her security detail returned (probably from breaking into a different house or database down the street), and then pleasantly surprising them with a welcome home party, complete with cocktails and snacks. Leaving a note, then cutting and running is just so lower class. You have to stick around and schmooze a little.  Amazon gift cards for the Clinton volunteers would have been a nice gesture, too.

Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign took the DNC to federal court, suing the party apparatus for breach of contract over its rude slamming of Bernie's own door on his own house of data. A temporary truce has been declared, though the lawsuit is continuing. Maybe Hillary and Bernie can have a beer summit like the one Obama conducted with professor Skip Gates and the cop who arrested him for attempting to breach his own home while black. I hope not, though. Hillary is she who cannot be placated, so Bernie shouldn't even try. It is looking more and more likely that he was/is being set up... and in a most inept fashion, given the blowback against the DNC and the Clinton machine.

I'll write more either tonight or tomorrow, post-debate. 

Meanwhile, if there is a Dump Debbie (Wasserman Schultz) petition circulating out there, please let me know. The sooner we see the back of that ham-handed autocrat, the better off we'll be.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can We Talk?

The establishment doesn't hate Donald Trump because he's a bigoted narcissist. They hate him because of truths like this that occasionally escape his uncensored maw:
We have spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all the other problems we have we would have been a lot better off I can tell you that right now. We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East but to humanity, the people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away and for what? It's not like we had victory. It's a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion.
I didn't watch the CNN war-mongering infomercial during which Trump uttered those words, because as I noted last month, I am boycotting CNN as a form of silent anti-war protest. Judging from the snippets of it that I have seen and read, though, I did myself a y-u-u-ge favor. What was quaintly advertised as a debate was nothing less than a mental waterboarding of the entire viewing audience. Donald Trump at least provided a little comic relief as he played Good Cop to a group of blathering sadists and an immoderate moderator appropriately named Wolf Blitzer.

Speaking of comedy, it finally dawned on me who Trump reminds me of. He is the male version of his late lamented friend and fellow vulgarian, Joan Rivers. Or maybe the ghost of Joan Rivers has possessed his brain.

  In a stand-up routine Wednesday broadcast live on several channels from Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Arizona by way of the mouldering Catskills Borsht Belt, Trump was in full "Can we tawk? Can we tawk?" mode. He perfectly aped Joan Rivers' vocal pattern of never completing a word or a sentence, as a way of expressing and sharing mass exasperation with All Things Stupid. For example, instead of saying "A hundred and fifty" Iranians in a prisoner exchange, he sputtered "A hundred and fi---." You can almost imagine him resting his waving demagogic finger just long enough to pretend-gag himself, Joan Rivers-style. Awwwk!

" And Hillary Clinton?" he ranted. "She leaves and goes back to sleep for a week. It's incre--!" (incredible.)

"Am I wrong? Am I wrong?"  Double-sentencing is a Trump-Rivers standard.

"They are the worst, the worst!" is another of their trademark vocal tics. Also, "It's horrible. Horrible!" And, "It's just---. It's just....!" and its variant, "It's just the worst!"


And don't even get me started on the mocking of the disabled, a Rivers-Trump staple. So is the fine art of heckling the hecklers:

(OK, so she admitted afterwards that there are two things going on whenever you do comedy: your mouth, and your head. The same can be said of Trump and his improvisational political stand-up routines.)

And last but not least, hate speech against Muslims and Latinos is an entertainment must when your audience consists largely of white refugees from the middle class, feeling more maligned and ignored by the day. The masses must have their scapegoats.


Joan Rivers is dead, Donald Trump is alive, and he may become the next president of the Feudal States of America. But take heart, plebs!  Democracy is not really moribund. It has simply morphed into a laugh riot of a reality show. We the people are the paying spectators. We'll have the freedom to chortle till we die.

Amirite, or am I wrong... am I wrong that this is just... this is just the worst, the worst?

It's horrible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Immunity, Impunity, Plutocracy

(optional soundtrack)

The very rich and the very incorporated have long been able to rob, plunder and despoil with de facto impunity. Now, however, the billionaire Koch Brothers and their Republican puppets want to ensure that their flouting of the law will get the rubber stamp of de jure impunity.

The Kochs and their think tank, the Heritage Foundation, are being unfairly praised for spearheading bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. The decriminalization of low level drug use among the poor and minorities is just the fig leaf they need. Their real aim is to ensure that white collar crime at the very highest levels  may be committed with impunity from now until the cows come home... or more likely, until they are barbecued alive on the polluted killing fields of Koch-sponsored climate change.

That the corruption allowing for the de facto impunity of the rich is well nigh complete is evidenced by the revelation that Obama administration officials have been secretly negotiating the criminal justice reform bill --  not with Congress, but directly with Koch Industries. From The Washington Post
Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden huddled Thursday with White House counsel Neil Eggleston and the president's senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to discuss the prospects for criminal justice legislation, which has made recent advances but may run aground because of an impasse over a proposal that would change the burden of proof for some corporate crimes.
One measure that passed the House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support— the Criminal Code Improvement Act — would require prosecutors in cases as wide-ranging as food tainting and corporate pollution to prove that defendants “knew, or had reason to believe, the conduct was unlawful,” otherwise known as “mens rea.” President Obama and several congressional Democrats have warned the change could derail legislation that otherwise enjoys significant support from both parties.
In other words, ignorance of the law and of the consequences of criminal behavior would be an excuse.... but only for the very rich and the very incorporated. Not that any BP officials are actually going to prison for the lethal Deepwater Horizon disaster, not that any Wall Street CEOs are actually being prosecuted for the worst financial disaster in modern history, not that any General Motors bigwigs have been indicted for dozens of defective ignition switch deaths. These people simply want the guarantee of immunity and impunity to be ironclad, engraved into law.  All they'd have to do for a get out of jail free card is to plead stupidity.

Because they've grown a little fatter, they've grown a little meaner, and they need that Christmas angel of impunity on their shoulders.

For you and me, ignorance of the law would still be no excuse. An unpaid traffic ticket could still land us in debtors' prison.

The rich want unequal protection under the law. They want to change the Constitution, not just bribe politicians and judges to ignore the Constitution.

And all that Obama and "several" Democrats can do is warn that this death blow to what is left of democracy "could" derail the reform package? I mean, the phony Christmas deadline these officials use every year as an excuse to ram through legislation that hurts citizens and rewards the rich is one thing. That the legalization of plutocratic crime and dismantling of the Bill of Rights is even being contemplated is a whole new kettle of very rotten fish.

Jarrett admits to a very cozy relationship with the Kochs' lawyer, exchanging several emails a week with him to secretly discuss the legislation. (Can't wait for those emails to made public decades from now, when the statute of limitations has safely run out. Or until Wikileaks provides them.)  Right now, the official cover story is that Jarrett is prevailing, getting the Kochs to change their minds about granting premature immunity to rich people and polluters like them as a prerequisite to getting the justice reform bill passed. After all, the chances of them ever being punished for their misdeeds are already near zero. If anything, they are rewarded for their misdeeds, in the form of waivers, tax breaks, and admission to the inner sanctum of the White House itself.

Meanwhile, it is a given that the Koch lawyers are also secretly huddling with Republican congress critters, making them an offer they can't refuse even as they give themselves and the White House cover. Will the White Plutocrats' Impunity Bill squeak through at the 11th hour, just in the time for their holiday vacations to Aspen and Hawaii? Or, do we call up our congress critters and say "Hell, NO!"

 As Karen Faulk wrote in In the Wake of Neoliberalism, a chronicle of the social justice movement that sprang up in the 1990s after Argentina's Dirty Wars, "corruption in the public sphere and the impunity that guarantees it are part and parcel of the neoliberal state."

Argentinians took to the streets to protest the cover-ups of psychological and physical violence, directly relating them to the ensuing economic and social violence made manifest by the rampant criminality of the oligarchs and the impunity granted them by corrupt public officials. Citizens not only didn't accept the official story that "we tortured some folks," they rightly and directly correlated the whitewashes of the Dirty Wars with the injustices later wreaked upon the populace by free market neoliberalism.

Something similar is now going on with the Black Lives Matter movement protests. These young activists understand that the impunity of the rich is tantamount to the denial of human rights for the poor. They are reacting to the myriad ravages of neoliberalism: physical and psychological, economic and judicial.

The United States version of the Argentinian "disappeared" have names like Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and Laquan McDonald. Elsewhere on the planet, they are largely nameless, and they number in the millions. They are the detritus of war and colonialism. They are the collateral damage of the Neoliberal Project.

And meanwhile, the White House secretly and cynically negotiates with the abhorrent Koch Brothers as our cold, lean lives hang in the balance.

Plutocratic impunity has got to go. We need a little justice, right this very minute.