Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Drilling On Hold, But Torture May Proceed

Just because President Obama put a five-year kibosh on oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic doesn't mean that the ocean is now safe for whales and other marine life. Far from it.

Oil companies will still be free to blast away with underwater sonic cannons, prospecting for every last barrel of goo hiding beneath the ocean floor. They will be free to damage and destroy marine life in the process. They'll be free to hasten the extinctions already underway due to man-made climate change. 

Call it pre-emptive plunder. The thinking behind the White House giving approval to exploration without immediate extraction is that once the current global oil glut depletes itself,  and higher prices make it worth the market god's while, the multinationals will have their mother lodes all mapped out for them. They're simply being proactive. 

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently considering eight separate applications for seismic blast testing for oil and gas in the Atlantic. To visualize what this "mapping" will do to wildlife, try to imagine undergoing a diagnostic ultrasound in the middle of a war zone. Imagine that submitting yourself to such a test would not only render you permanently deaf,  it would also very likely drive you insane. Imagine that the sound would be so loud that you would lose all sense of direction and not even be able to find your way home from the clinic. Imagine if you had your children with you, and the sonic blast had the effect of making you forget that you even had children.

That is what oil company sonic blasting will do to whales, sea turtles and other sentient beings. The sound can travel underwater for more than 2,000 miles to do its damage. According to marine conservation scientist Douglas Nowacek, the sound blasts can reach 260 decibels and continue for weeks or months on end.

 “Each survey would discharge its airguns approximately every 10 or 12 seconds, and would operate 24 hours per day," he told Congress last year.  "If these permits are granted, ocean animals located in that wide area of the Atlantic Ocean would be exposed to noise levels that are likely to cause impacts and to disrupt essential behavior patterns.”  

To suggest that the Obama administration's approval for this testing is tantamount to approving torture is actually quite an understatement.

As Oceana's Ingrid Biedron points out, “Since the Atlantic has been removed from drilling for the next five years, there’s no immediate need for companies to prospect for oil and gas in this way. We’d encourage them, and the government, to wait until there is safer technology available before going ahead with this.”

Asking predatory capitalists to wait for anything is asking way too much, of course. That their quest for more oil and more profits has already done irreparable damage to all the species inhabiting our precious planet is simply what neoliberal economists label an "externality," and what the masters of war label collateral damage.

And Obama's reasons for placing a five-year moratorium on Atlantic drilling actually have little to do with protecting the environment. His administration simultaneously approved ten new leasing sites in the Gulf of Mexico and another three off the Arctic coast. The decisions to halt drilling in the Arctic were made by the oil companies themselves -- the cost-benefit analyses simply did not work out in their favor.

And wasn't only environmentalists and tourism concerns that put pressure on the president to halt Atlantic drilling. It was the United States military brass. Underwater drilling by oil companies would damage the Pentagon's ability to play their war games on the Atlantic high seas and also interfere with the training exercises and other testing that they conduct on the Eastern coastline.

So when Big Oil is up against Big Forever War, the bigger, faster death obviously wins. But Big Oil dare not complain too much, seeing as how the Pentagon uses more of its polluting product than all other government agencies combined. As a matter of fact, the American military contributes more to global warming than any other institution on the planet. And miracle of miracles: the Pentagon enjoys blanket exemption from all international climate change agreements. So, as long as the wars continue, so will the current oil glut diminish, so will the oil companies' profits ooze back up in a giant blob of cash.

As Herbert Melville observed in his own anti-capitalist whale of a tale (Moby Dick): "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!” 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hillary's Hideous Honesty

 You can take the woman out of the authoritarian New York Times, but you can't take the authoritarian New York Times out of the woman.

Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor ever to be hired and fired by the Paper of Record, has a new gig writing a bi-weekly column on politics for the centrist Guardian. That is neoliberal code for writing a bi-weekly press release for Hillary Clinton.

In Monday's offering, Abramson touts Hillary's "shocking honesty". Clinton's problem is not corruption, Abramson claims. Her problem is a lack of transparency about her own innate decency. Plus, Hillary is a victim of sexism. Jill should know. 

Meanwhile, the smarmy Hillaphilia practically jumps off the page at you:
The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.
The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.
See my previous post about a quid pro quo not being a necessity for influence peddling and corruption to occur. Jill Abramson has obviously never delved into Zephyr Teachout's masterful Corruption in America.

But just for the sake of honesty, let's take Abramson at her word. Although she doesn't use it as an example, Hillary's painful honesty about endemic American corruption and brutality shines through loud and clear in the following State Department cable, released by Wikileaks in December 2009:

"Saudia Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan and other support groups." -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who then went on to complain that the Saudis only act against terrorists when their own country is threatened. 

Whereupon she wasted no time in completing the sale of billions of dollars' worth of lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia, which has since openly and honestly used  them them to slaughter innocent civilians in the United States' proxy war against Yemen. Whether any arms were also spirited by the Saudis to such fundamentalist terror groups as ISIS is still unknown.

Hillary's deal with the Saudis was not a secret backroom accomplishment by any stretch of the imagination. It was totally, boastfully transparent.  Although both Hillary and her boss, Obama, were safely out of town enjoying the winter holidays while the actual papers were being signed, her Neocon minion Victoria Nuland held a totally open and honest press briefing about the sale. During one foggy Christmas Week, Santa and a whole retinue of his right jolly old elves came to Foggy Bottom to have their say.

The bureaucrats doing the honors, and the reporters basking in the honors, sounded absolutely merry and giddy. Whether they were drunk on booze or whether they were simply drunk on power/access to power is anyone's guess. From the transcript: 
NULAND: Good afternoon, everybody. Before we do our regular daily briefing, we have a special briefing today on U.S. arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With us today, we have Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, and we have Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.
So without further ado, Assistant Secretary Shapiro.
QUESTION: Can we attribute the on-time nature of this briefing to the fact that someone from the Pentagon is here? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Absolutely. We have military discipline – (laughter).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, thank you everyone for coming this afternoon. And as Toria mentioned, I’m joined by Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dr. Jim Miller.
As you may recall, in October 2010, I officially announced the Administration’s plan to sell to Saudi Arabia a significant defense package that would include advanced F-15 fighter aircraft and helicopters. We are pleased to announce that over this past weekend, the United States and Saudi Arabia signed a letter of offer and acceptance for the sale of up to 84 advanced F-15SA fighter aircraft. It also includes upgrades to its current fleet of 70 F-15 aircraft, as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance, and logistics.
This sale is worth $29.4 billion. These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by the Boeing company, will be among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world. This agreement serves to reinforce the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security.
Miller went on to claim that the sale would "advance U.S. interests" (read: bloat the obscene profits of Boeing, chief beneficiary of the Export-Import Bank boosted by Clinton and decried by her rival Bernie Sanders.)

 It would, Miller continued, "send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and the broader Middle East." (read: better watch out, Yemeni wedding parties and Doctors Without Borders hospitals and mothers and children who have the nerve to exist in the buffer zone between the Saudis and countries like Syria and Iraq and Iran and Libya.)

Although he glossed over Hillary's brutally honest, yet secret, assessment that Saudi Arabia is the major financier of terror in that region, Miller himself was brutally honest in admitting that the arms sale was all about the brutal greed of everybody concerned:
 It will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to deter and defend against external threats to its sovereignty. It will advance interoperability between the air forces of our two countries through joint training and exercises. And lastly, this agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advance the President’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports. According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs. It will engage 600 suppliers in 44 states and provide $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy. This will support jobs not only in the aerospace sector but also in our manufacturing base and support chain, which are all crucial for sustaining our national defense.
War is only hell for the grunts who get killed and maimed fighting it. It is pure heaven for the tax-exempt "job creators" and investors who make tons of money from megatons of death and destruction every single minute of every single day. 

And in Hillaryland, every day is Christmas.

In the spirit of sincere honesty preceding her run for the presidency, husband Bill forthrightly admitted that Saudi bigwigs had returned the favoritism and gifted the Clinton Foundation with millions of dollars in "charitable" donations. The Clintons have transparently decided to keep the money from an aider and abettor of terrorism just because they are so above-board and deserving of our trust.

Ethics? They don't need any stinking ethics when they are absolutely shameless in their honesty.

It's the Corruption, Stupid

Given that Bernie Sanders has won five out of the last six Democratic primaries (and possibly lost in Arizona because of massive voter suppression) rumors of his political demise have been rather exaggerated. He even won by huge margins in Hawaii, the home state of Hillary-supporter Barack Obama.

But delegate-rich New York, which votes next month, is really the do-or-die state for Bernie. He plans to barnstorm the state as the Brooklyn native versus the Native Stepdaughter, a/k/a  the once and future carpetbagger (Arkansas by way of Illinois and D.C.) and presumed nominee.

If the recent  Democratic primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo by law professor Zephyr Teachout is any indication, Bernie should clean up in upstate regions, but perhaps not do as well in New York City, where Cuomo prevailed and won the primary, despite literally hiding under a stinking cloud of corruption at the time of his re-election.

Teachout, who like Bernie was strong-armed by the Democratic party machine in efforts to damage her candidacy, won by landslides in 20 upstate counties, including that of the state capital, Albany. She ultimately received more than a third of the vote -- which, given Cuomo's incumbency and national standing, was actually a huge blow to him. It put a permanent dent in any plans he might have had for a presidential, even a vice-presidential, run. She was a political neophyte who'd never before run for office.

Like Sanders, she ran on an anti-corruption, anti-centrist platform. Like Hillary Clinton, Cuomo was the inevitability candidate. Like Hillary Clinton, he balked at even debating his challenger. Like Clinton, he enjoyed the bountiful financial support of what Sanders labels "the billionaire class."

Matt Stoller wrote at the time:
Cuomo won for one reason — his opponent had no name ID, and he spent between $11M and $15M on this election. Money in politics is used to talk to voters through mail and TV. Without it, you are mute. Zephr Teachout didn’t do one piece of mail, or a single TV ad. There was a lot of evidence that primary voters, when given a light persuasion message, flipped to Teachout. She got a big chunk of the vote without spending very much at all. But there was no money to deliver such a message. Given a bit more money, or a bit more time, the outcome would have been different. To put it another way, Cuomo paid roughly $48 for every vote he got, where Zephyr paid roughly $2.70. That’s a very big differential, in terms of the power of the messaging. If Zephyr had had a bit more money, she could have easily won.
Oh, and Teachout is now running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Gibson, the liberal Republican who himself won re-election in 2014 against a self-financed centrist carpetbagger Democrat from Illinois named Sean Eldridge. Eldridge, of whom I wrote a couple of years ago, was the very model of a plutocratic pol. He was one of the precursors of the reality that is now biting the Establishment right in its well-padded ass: Citizens United or no Citizens United, actual people are still worthy competitors against wads of cash. Just look at poor Jebbie Bush.

Teachout, for her own part, literally wrote the book on political corruption. From David Cole's review of Corruption in America:
As Teachout makes clear, the framers themselves predicted that corruption would be a constant threat. George Mason, for example, warned that “if we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end.” It was a preoccupation of the founding debates. In James Madison’s notebook from the summer of 1787, “corruption” appears fifty-four times. As Teachout puts it, “corruption, influence, and bribery were discussed more often in the convention than factions, violence, or instability.”
By corruption, the founding era did not mean simply the explicit exchange of cash for a vote, what the Supreme Court in its campaign finance decisions has come to call “quid pro quo corruption.” Teachout notes that the word “corruption” came up hundreds of times in the Constitutional Convention and the ratification debates, yet “only a handful of uses referred to what we might now think of as quid pro quo bribes,” constituting “less than one-half of 1 percent of the times corruption was raised.”
That lack of a quid pro quo necessity is precisely why Hillary Clinton's insistence that her millions of dollars in Wall Street speaking fees will not translate into political favors for Wall Street is so disingenuous. The bankers and oil companies and pharmaceuticals and defense contractors are not looking for immediate gratification. They are very patient greedsters. They know that good things come to them if only they can stand to wait a minute.

And do wait just a minute, plutes! It's not over yet. Gird your asses for some more swift kicks coming your way with much strength and accuracy and anger. There are still 18 states left to vote, with half the delegates still up for grabs. Bernie would need to win 57 percent of these delegates to achieve a majority heading into the convention. Not impossible, although the probability of Hillary winning the nomination is still at a daunting 92 percent.

But a little bird tells me not to believe the odds-makers. They have been so oddly wrong lately. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Those Other Terrorists

While the professional purveyors of paranoia are raking in the bucks and salivating over the Belgium terrorist attack and bitching about the president's failure to properly render his thoughts, prayers and revenge, Those Other Terrorists have received a silent slap on the wrist.

If outrage has not ensued, it is because Those Other Terrorists are American troops. And as we all know, America does not do terror. It only fights terror.

The American terrorism that shall not be named is of the state-sponsored variety. I am talking about the dozen or so unnamed pilots and military bureaucrats who unleashed a brutal wave of destruction last fall against a charity hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Although they terrorized, killed and injured scores of innocent people, they won't be facing any criminal charges, civil charges, or be faced with military courts martial.  They are receiving little to no TV coverage. They have only been given administrative letters of reprimand which will, the Pentagon boasts, severely endanger their future chances for promotion through the ranks. Their individual roles in the Kunduz terror attack will merely be appended as a blot on their permanent records.

Their careers might be stalled, but their lives will go on. They will continue to get their paychecks. They won't be demoted. If they fly, their pilots' licenses won't be revoked. They were only following orders. Mistakes were made. They will be shielded from accountability,because that is what American Exceptionalism is all about.

A full six months after the air attack that killed 42 and injured 37 at the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, the new commander of U.S, and NATO forces finally visited the site of the devastation to personally express his condolences.
 As commander, I wanted to come to Kunduz personally and stand before the families, and people of Kunduz, to deeply apologize for the events which destroyed the hospital and caused the deaths of the hospital staff, patients and family members,” said General John W. Nicholson. “I grieve with you for your loss and suffering; and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.”
This apology is the latest official statement about the "tragedy" in which victims were decapitated, disemboweled, dismembered, and literally incinerated in their beds. First, American officials insisted they didn't know they were attacking a hospital. Then they claimed that American troops were being attacked in the vicinity of the hospital. Then they changed their story again, asserting that Afghan troops had lied to them about the hospital being used as a headquarters for the Taliban, and that it was the Afghans who'd requested the bombardment.

Nicholson was accompanied in his visit to Kunduz by his wife, security analyst Norine MacDonald, who reportedly met with some survivors for about five minutes.  Her husband issued his formal apology in a closed session with Afghan officials, and did not meet personally with victims' families to ask their forgiveness. As the New York Times reports, the people were not placated:
They hit us six months ago and are apologizing now?” said Zabiullah Niazi, an operating room nurse at the hospital who lost an eye, a finger and the ability to use one hand. He also suffered other wounds. “The head of the provincial council and other officials who said we accept the apology, they wouldn’t have said it if they had lost their own son and eaten ashes, as we did.”
Mr. Niazi said about 18 male members of victims’ families and two survivors had been called to the governor’s office for a meeting with General Nicholson. But the general himself did not show up, instead making a speech in a packed auditorium where family members and survivors did not get a chance to speak.
MSF still maintains that the attack was deliberate and has demanded an independent war crimes inquiry. A final "report" on the terrorist attack by the American military will be issued soon... by the Pentagon itself. Names will be redacted, reputations saved, crocodile tears shed. Call it the Bush Trickle-Down Method for the Protection of War Criminals. If President Obama can blithely admit that "we tortured some folks" and then call the torturers patriots, then he and the brass can blithely excuse anything. Even the deliberate bombing of a hospital.

Meanwhile, the media-political complex wants all you citizens to perform your patriotic duty of staying very afraid of the Terrorists Over There. And while you're shivering and shaking over the All Terrorism All the Time show, they want you to join them in sanctimoniously condemning the awful Trumpian Islamophobia which they also broadcast for great profit at Donald's Fight Club political rallies. Because as you should all know by now, that is not Who We Are.

America is better than that.

* Update: Neil deMeuse has other examples of how not all terrorist deaths are treated equally. The mainstream media devoted little attention to a very similar attack by a Kurdish group in Ankara,Turkey a few weeks ago, which actually killed and injured more people than the one in Belgium. Of course, one attack killed mainly Western Europeans and the other killed Eastern Europeans and Asians (including, as in Kunduz, people of the Muslim faith.)  The disparity between coverage of the Brussels and Ankara bombings parallels that of the disparity between the other similar attacks in Paris and Beirut.

The coverage of the Belgian atrocity is so wall-to-wall that it
 even included a story in the New York Times about all the Starbucks restaurants closing down in Brussels. DeMeuse observes
The usual defense of US outlets that offer lesser coverage of deaths in other parts of the world cites readers’ and viewers’ increased interest when Americans are somehow involved — at its most base, the principle expressed in McLurg’s Law that a death in one’s home country is worth 1,000 deaths on the other side of the world. (This was on full display in the Chicago Tribune’s lead story on the Brussels bombings, which was headlined “Brussels Attacks: 3rd Bomb Found; Americans Hurt.”) But while US citizens were injured in Brussels — three Mormon missionaries caught in the airport blast received widespread coverage, including in USA Today (3/22/16) and on (3/22/16) and (3/22/16) — and none in Ankara, another Turkish bombing this month did have American casualties: Two Israeli-Americans, Yonathan Suher and Avraham Goldman, were killed along with two others in an ISIS suicide bombing in Istanbul on March 20. Their deaths earned brief stories in the New York Times (3/19/16) and Bloomberg News (3/19/16), but no mention elsewhere in the US news media.
He added that coverage of terrorism depends on what region of the world is terrorized. If you reside in a Muslim area, for example, bombings are just shit that you expect to happen. But in the West, terrorism is considered so outside the norm that it merits the wall to wall coverage. This is despite the fact that the United States has more gun deaths than any other "civilized" nation on earth. When it comes to terror, killings perpetrated by "insiders" are less interesting to the media than killings committed by The Other. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sighin' Over Ryan

(Graphic by Kat Garcia)

House Speaker Paul Ryan is back in the news. The photogenic Ayn Rand poster boy for plutocratic supremacy is being dragged out by the centrist chattering class as the last great, white hope to defeat the great white dope named Donald Trump --  who is, by the way, a pure genius in the way he manipulates the media for billions of dollars' worth of free air time.... not to mention the pure genius of manipulating the media who provide such prominent coverage of the media manipulation.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is champing at the bit to finally dispose of her true threat, Bernie Sanders, the better to sink her teeth into Trump in the general election. Barack Obama, long portrayed in the media mythology textbooks as "the only adult in the room," is now reportedly working on a whole book of new hilarious Donald Trump jokes. He not only aims to put the fun back into fighting fascism, he aims to keep pretending that fascism (corporatism) hasn't been an integral part of the American political process ever since our nation was born out of slavery and mass extermination.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, apparently feeling confident enough in a Hillary coronation to cease and desist from his serial rabid Bernie-bashing, is regressing back to his own true area of expertise: bashing the Republican Party in general, and Paul Ryan in particular. Like just about everybody in the liberal class, Krugman whines that the GOP, in all its "invincible ignorance," is disowning its own responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump:
Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. But what I found especially striking were his comments on tax policy. I know, boring — but indulge me here. There’s a larger moral.
You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. Why do candidates who inveigh against the evils of budget deficits and federal debt feel obliged to propose huge high-end tax cuts — much bigger than those of George W. Bush -- that would eliminate trillions in revenue?
As is his wont, Krugman glosses right over Democratic complicity (Third Way free-market Clintonism) in the rise of Trump. My published response:
 Since the official embrace of ignorance has been a mainstay of right-wingery for more than 200 years, the GOP is simply following a grand old tradition. Their beef with Trump is that he wears his ignorance on his sleeve.
Lyin' Ryan and his cohort, meanwhile, couldn't survive without the complicity of the other big business party. Just last week*, President Obama praised him for being a good husband, father and a patriot. He doesn't often agree with him, of course, but he has no reason to doubt Ryan's sincere concern for "folks."
Obama (and the entire Establishment, it seems) are, however, chiding the young agitators who are disrupting Trump's fascist rallies. What really scares them is bottom-up democracy, citizens who aren't just consumers, and the inclusive message of Bernie Sanders.
 They would prefer to work with nice family men like Ryan to quietly "trim" or "reform" social programs, while pouring trillions of dollars into permanent war and the surveillance state. Every extra crumb for the needy is offset by a reward for the rich. The slow destruction of the safety net and the funneling of all the wealth to the top 1% must be conducted calmly and efficiently.
Their Exceptional America is for the exceptional top 1%. They, who are so devoted to family: their own. They are true patriots, whose love for the corporate state trumps everything: particularly the "folks" they claim to represent.
Hear the duopoly roar: politely, seriously, invincibly.
*Obama's complete "both sides do it"  remarks at a St. Patrick's Day luncheon can be found here. The salient excerpts, in which he fawned over Ryan and scolded political protesters for being rude to The Donald, implicitly including the Black Lives Matter activists, are here:
And so I know that I’m not the only one in this room who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail lately.  We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities -- at Americans who don’t look like “us,” or pray like “us,” or vote like we do.  We’ve seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech, however offensive it may be.  We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold.
(Except when militarized police forces get together and use batons and pepper spray to squelch free speech at Occupy camps and at anti-war and anti-corporate "free trade"  protests. It is "misguided" for protesters to shut down roads that lead to a demagogue whose whole raison d'etre is to incite riots.)
In response to those attempts, we’ve seen actual violence, and we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders.  Speaker Ryan, I appreciated the words on this topic that you shared with us this morning.  But too often we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal.
(No word about the physical courage of people who are willing to get beaten up for their protests against racism and xenophobia. Aren't their protests also free speech? Probably what Obama really fears is the whole corrupt duopoly collapsing in upon itself, and of course, protests at Hillary Clinton's rallies. Better be quiet little consumer-citizens and wait for the Adult President to tell Trump jokes to lighten things up a bit.)
And it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us may have done to contribute to this kind of vicious atmosphere in our politics.  I suspect that all of us can recall some intemperate words that we regret.  Certainly, I can.  And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it.  For it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America.  And it has to stop.  And I say that not because it’s a matter of “political correctness,” it’s about the way that corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy, and our society, and even our economy.... 
(This is from the guy who until quite recently openly embraced Grand Bargain austerity and the Sequester, is still covering up portions of the CIA torture report, still shielding war criminals, shielding Wall Street criminals, waging wars both openly and secretly, killing thousands of civilians in drone strikes, and orchestrating coups in Honduras, Ukraine and other democratic countries. Violence is, and always has been, an accurate reflection of America. And yet Obama is singling out protesters at Trump's political rallies and glossing over the de facto social policy violence of Paul Ryan.) 
And this is also about the American brand.  Who are we?  How are we perceived around the world?  There’s a reason that America has always attracted the greatest talent from every corner of the globe.  There’s a reason that “Made in America” means something. It’s because we’re creative, and dynamic, and diverse, and inclusive, and open.  Why would we want to see that brand tarnished?  The world pays attention to what we say and what we do....
(America is pure propaganda, an advertising brand, a low-wage talent magnet, a maudlin appeal to patriotism in order to quell anger and dissent. Not much is actually made in America any more, thanks to NAFTA, the WTO inclusion of China into the Walton family oligarchy, and other "trade" deals. Obama seems more concerned about his reputation and legacy and public relations than about the reality that the whole world has been noticing for quite some time now.) 
So when we leave this lunch, I think we have a choice.  We can condone this race to the bottom, or accept it as the way things are and sink further.   Or we can roundly reject this kind of behavior, whether we see it in the other party, or more importantly, when we see it in our own party, and set a better example for our children and the rest of the country to follow.  It starts with us.
(And if the duopoly has anything to say about it, the horrible example they set will be kept largely confined to opulent rooms behind closed doors. After all, this administration is credited with being the most secretive in memory. If only the angry citizens would just shut up, the kids won't look around and discover that one out of every 30 of them is homeless for the sole reason that the elite political class has never seen fit to implement a humane, affordable housing policy in this country.)

Speaker Ryan, you and I don’t agree on a lot of policy.  But I know you are a great father and a great husband, and I know you want what’s best for America.  And we may fiercely disagree on policy -- and the NFC North -- (laughter) -- but I don’t have a bad word to say about you as a man.  And I would never insult my fellow Irish like that....
 That’s what carried us through other times that were far more tough and far more dangerous than the one that we're in today -– times where we were told to fear the future; times where we were told to turn inward and to turn against each other.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  Each time, we faced the future with confidence in who we are and what we stand for, and the incredible things that we’re capable of together.
The corrupt duopoly is capable of so much more. Capitalism is awesomely incredible. The only thing the elites have to fear is Bernie Sanders-style Democratic Socialism. 

The State of the Uniparty is Strong and Hearty-Har-Har-Har
Double the Fascist Fun

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Times of Hillary Clinton

After the economy crashed in 2008, Wall Street got bailed out by Main Street. And the New York Times got bailed out by Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men.

Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the corporate coup orchestrated and signed into existence by the Clinton administration, Slim had been able to corner the market on Central America's and much of South America's cell phone industry and extract billions of dollars from the Mexican people, whose lives and livelihoods have been irreparably damaged or even destroyed by NAFTA.

When Wall Street later crashed and burned as a direct result of the deregulation frenzy that reached its zenith during the Clinton-Bush years, The Times was very much part of the collateral damage. Management watched helplessly as its ad revenue poured down the tubes at a horrific rate.

 And then lo and behold: NAFTA beneficiary and world-class oligarch Carlos Slim swooped across the Rio Grande just in time, with a multimillion-dollar loan package designed to keep the Gray Lady in the style to which she had been accustomed.

A year ago, Slim doubled his holdings at the New York Times company, becoming its largest shareholder. His total stake in the Gray Lady is now valued at more than a third of a billion dollars.

 So why shouldn't the Times shill for Hillary Clinton? After all, were it not for a special clause in NAFTA expressly greasing the skids for his crony capitalist seizure of the entire Latin American telecom industry,Times Sugar Daddy Carlos Slim never could have vied with Bill Gates for the title of the richest man on the planet.

For the trickle-down NAFTA beneficiary New York Times to endorse Hillary Clinton before the first primary vote had even been cast, assigning a full-time political beat reporter to her before she even announced her run, are very small prices for the newspaper to pay for a lifesaving cash infusion of a third of a billion dollars -- and counting. The fact that the Times occasionally runs critical pieces on Clintonoid financial chicanery and war crimes is similarly a small price for Hillary to pay for the privilege of her coronation. After all, the Clintons have thrived off their self-imposed victimhood for many decades. That "vast, right wing conspiracy" has paradoxically worked as a protective shield for them all these years. It has also acted as a magnet, attracting liberal supporters who might otherwise  have found their behavior reprehensible.

The Times can, for example, run a scathing piece on how Hillary ruined Libya and then boast about how  balanced their coverage is. Hillary's operatives, for their part, can kvetch about the "unfair" Times coverage about her family charity/slush fund and rake in even more sympathetic dollars from the billionaire donor class and sympathetic votes from the Democratic veal pen. 

To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, even on her worst day Hillary doesn't seem as bad as the Republican nihilists on their best day.

Carlos Slim, meantime, is not only sinking his ill-gotten gains into the New York Times, he is funneling millions of dollars into the Clinton Foundation. Even as Hillary was starting her presidential bid in 2014, she traveled to Mexico for a  buckfest with one of her favorite oligarchs. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another presidential wannabe before defecting to the Born-Again Trumpians, joined the gluttony to make it a truly attractive threesome.  (As a non-U.S. American, Slim is not allowed to personally contribute to U.S. political campaigns, but the dark money enabled by Citizens United has taken care of that little roadblock very nicely indeed.)

The Empress and the Oligarch
Of course, there's been that minor glitch from the Left named Bernie Sanders and his populist uprising. That he has made criticism of NAFTA, the TPP, and other trade deals a centerpiece of his candidacy really must have ticked those Times people off.  If, as odious Times columnist Paul Krugman suggests, the "demagogic" Sanders were to tear up NAFTA upon his election to the presidency, global chaos would ensue. In other words, Carlos Slim might lose a few bucks. His telecom monopoly might even be in danger of a permanent break-up. The continued cash flow into Times Square might dwindle down to a dangerous trickle.

At the very least, thanks to the Sanders campaign, the global plutocracy and its inhumane job-destroying free trade deals have come under some rare scrutiny.

You see, we weren't supposed to notice that what Krugman once called the "beautiful thing" of NAFTA is actually a version of the shock doctrine. 

It created a serious crisis, and the serious people of the Neoliberal Thought Collective didn't let it go to waste.

Crises were created, farmers fled their lands, factories were shuttered, too-big-to-fail/jail banks extracted their due, and only the little people on both sides of the border have suffered.

 We weren't supposed to find out that the "externalities" of NAFTA cited by Krugman and other neoliberal economists-for-hire  are actually human beings who lost their homes, jobs and in some cases their very lives.  Beginning in those bubble-icious Clinton years, it became the duty of both the Mexican and the American media to mold public opinion into an abject acceptance of their lost jobs and plummeting wages and rising prices -- not to mention the violence spawned by government-enabled/sponsored narco-trafficking.

So the fact that the New York Times has been alternately ignoring and denigrating Sanders should come as no y-u-u-ge surprise. Bernie is a clear and present danger to neoliberalism and to the Clintonoid extreme center of which the Times is an integral part. He is a clear and present danger to the plutocracy-serving and plutocracy-enriched Paper of Record itself. His agenda threatens the bottom lines of investors and wealthy advertisers.

Desperate Times calls for desperate measures. Thanks to technology -- and a very astute blogger going by the name of Broken Ravioli -- the stealth shadow re-editing of a Times story by Jennifer Steinhauer has been outed in real time. The exposé was picked up and expanded upon by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and other prominent writers. The subsequent special pleadings of the Times' editors: that such editorial manipulation goes on all the time, is eerily reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's insistence that just because she takes bribes doesn't mean that her bribers will necessarily get what they pay for.

Departing Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has the detailed synopsis and all the links that are fit to print right here.

It should come as no huge surprise that Times editors apparently conspired to deliberately mangle a rare favorable straight news story about Sanders's legislative accomplishments into just one more blatant hit piece of an op-ed.  The fact that the vast majority of commenters are rightly upset about the paper's journalistic corruption, some even cancelling their subscriptions in protest, has apparently made no impact on the paper's management and its anti-Bernie agenda.

Compared to the hundreds of millions they rake in from high-end advertisers and the largesse of Carlos Slim, they apparently view reader subscriptions as slim (sorry!) pickings in the grand scheme of things. Besides, for every click on the popular readers' comment section, the Times makes money. It's an integral part of the new Extracting Sharing Economy.

Apparently mildly stung by the recent criticism, however, a few Times writers are now proceeding to the next stage of their neoliberal propaganda agenda: the awarding of the booby prizes. Timothy Egan, one of Bernie's more peevish centrist critics, suddenly wants him to stay in the race, just for old times' sake, seeing as how the campaign is Part Three of "Weekend at Bernie's."  Charles Blow, pivoting from his own castigation of white "Berniesplainers," now admits that there has, in fact, been a Bernie Blackout going on in TimesWorld. Even Krugman, Bernie-basher bar none, is hypocritically walking back his own role in NAFTA, in perfect sync with Hillary Clinton's own purely temporary anti-trade posing.

This sudden attempted rapprochement with, even fawning over,  Bernie supporters now that Sanders has little to no chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, is of course too little and too late. The motivation obviously is to herd all the disappointed millions of millennials into Hillary's pen, in the interest of party machine solidarity and anti-Trumpism. Yet, despite all their alleged writing talents, these hacks just never learned how to do nuance and psy-ops very well at all.

"Obama Quietly Signals That It's Time to Unite Behind Clinton," grossly blares the latest above-the-fold New York Times headline. 

 It is so painfully obvious that they want to be retroactively "caught trying" for the sake of their own tattered journalistic reputations.But judging from the outpouring of outraged reader commentary, people are no longer buying what they're selling. Especially since relatively few people even have the money to scale a paywall every bit as ridiculous and classist as the Great Wall between Trump's America and the global south.

"Read not The Times. Read the Eternities." -- Henry David Thoreau.

** Update: The aforementioned Charles Blow was impelled to post a Facebook video instructing us mere mortals about the differences between opinion-writing and news-writing. Incidentally, he disdains to  even glance at the published reader comments appended to his articles. But, he sneers, "knock yourselves out" writing comments anyway, because lots of comments contribute to his job security at the Times. Click, click, click.

I couldn't even stand to watch his whole condescending video lecture. Rima Regas has posted it on her blog, though, in case you're in need of a sardonic laugh or two.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lacrimosa, USA

I know it's not over till it's over, but what a bummer the latest primary results have turned out to be, huh? So please excuse me if I wallow in a little self-indulgent Mourning the Bern until I can force another chunk of clarified anger out of my brain. Then, after the wallow, it's either keep feeling a possibly Bernieless Bern, or curling up into the fetal position for the next several months as we witness a presidential election between a fascist and a neocon.

And I do mean neocon. Here are two prime examples of the bellicose breed candidly schmoozing last week at Nancy Reagan's funeral:


And I do mean "witness" quite literally. Because an election whose one and only theme has become "Donald Trump!" has nothing to do with participatory democracy and everything to do with the ruling establishment trying to hold on to power by entertaining the viewing audience when not dividing and conquering them via the nonstop Trumpian hate speech they only pretend to deplore. If you're a Democrat, you are already being urged to swarm around Hillary, whose only honeyed attraction now is that she is posing as the anti-Trump. And even some Republicans are already pledging their allegiance to the Goldwater Girl in the event that Trump survives an orchestrated convention Dump.

And I do mean the "posing" part quite literally, too. The Clintons and the Trumps have been hanging out together socially for years. Their thirty-something heiress daughters were BFFs until they had to tamp down the public socializing for the electoral duration, while the political-media complex pretends that their beloved bipartisanship is suddenly an evil thing, for purposes of getting out the plebeian vote.(And in the case of Trump, even the plebeian vote may go out the window in the event of a brokered convention.)


And let me be blunt: clothespins are not an option for my face. This "contest" is truly one for the ages. The nose-holding and greater vs. lesser evil platitudes won't fly. Our choices are between greater evil and humongous evil. Never have two candidates ostensibly chosen by The People been more loathed by The People.

Meanwhile, since misery loves company.....

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hillary's Miracle Cure: Shop Around

(Optional soundtrack)

Happy Ides of March Eve of the third Super Duper Terror Tuesday of the year, everybody!

I must confess that, suffering as I am from a severe case of Presidential Horse Race overload, I paid only scant attention to last night's Democratic town hall from Ohio. But this exchange between Hillary Clinton and a middle-aged woman from the audience,named Joyce, really got my ear. It encapsulates the cynicism, cluelessness, and utter lack of empathy beneath a thin mask of technocratic concern that is at the very heart of the Clinton candidacy:

 QUESTION: I have voted for Obama, and then my health insurance skyrocketed from $409 a month to $1,090 a month for a family of four. I know Obama told us that we would be paying a little more, but doubling – over doubling my health insurance cost has not been a little more. It has been difficult to come up with that kind of payment every month. I would like to vote Democratic, but it's cost me a lot of money, and I'm just wondering if Democrats really realize how difficult it's been on working class Americans to finance Obama care.


CLINTON: Wow, Thank you for asking me that, because. May I ask you, before you were buying your family health insurance in the individual family market? Were you getting it through the employer? How were you insured before?

 QUESTION:  I was purchasing it privately, because we both had bouts of unemployment. 

CLINTON:  So you were going to a broker and buying a health insurance policy. 


CLINTON:  And in effect, it nearly tripled after you went on to the exchange and bought a policy under the Affordable Care Act, is that right? 

QUESTION:  We could not do that.  It was much more expensive than just purchasing private insurance from the insurance company. 

CLINTON:  So you are still buying private insurance directly? 


CLINTON:  OK.  Well, first of all, let me say I want very much to get the costs down, and that is going to be my mission, because I do think that for many, many people, but there are exceptions like what you are telling me, having the Affordable Care Act has reduced costs, has created a real guarantee of insurance, because if you'd had a pre-existing condition under the old system, you wouldn't have gotten affordable insurance.

So it has done a lot of really good things, but, it has become increasingly clear that we are going to have to get the costs down.  And what I would like to see happen for you and your family is that if we can get the co-pays down, the deductibles down, get the prescription drug costs under control, that you would find an affordable plan on your exchange. 

And one thing that I would like you to do, and I'm not saying it's going to make a difference, but I would like you to just go shopping on that exchange.  As I understand it, Ohio has the federal exchange, is that right, Joyce?  Because they did not set up a state exchange.

So you have the federal exchange.  And to go on and keep looking to see what the prices are, because we have to get more competition back into the insurance market.  One thing that I want to work on with my friends from Congress who are here is we've got the get more non-profits that are capable of selling insurance back into the insurance market. 

You know, Blue Cross and Blue Shield used to be non-profits.  And then they transferred themselves into for-profit companies.  And there was some effort made under the Affordable Care Act to get some competition from non-profit institutions, some of them worked and a lot of them didn't.

I want to know what we can do, because if you could get a range of insurers, some of who were not-for-profit companies, that would lower costs. 

So there is a number of things I am looking at.  And what I want to assure you and your family of is I will do everything I can as president, working with members of Congress where necessary, to try to get the costs down. 

But I do want you to keep shopping, because what you are telling me is much higher than what I hear from other families, and so I want to be sure that if there is a better option out there for you, you're going to be able to take advantage of it.  

And then I'll work as hard as I can to get the costs down for everybody, and that includes prescription cost drugs, which are skyrocketing and increasing costs for everything else. 


How does Hillary Clinton verbally diminish and insult this woman living on the edge? Let us parse the ways.

First, she disingenuously professes shock at Joyce's plight. "Wow!"  She immediately casts her questioner as an anomaly in the wonderful world of market-based medical insurance for profit. Ignoring Joyce's all-too-common experience with precarious employment, Hillary pounces on her deficient shopping skills.

Joyce's big problem, in Hillary's view, is not that insurance companies are greedy. It's that Joyce has lazily put her trust in a greedy insurance broker. She gave up on Internet shopping too easily. She didn't shop around. 

Next, Clinton goes full Pangloss, reminding Joyce that it could always be worse. At least her pre-existing conditions won't be held against her any more. Of course she'll have to pay more, because her conditions are not the fault of the profit-driven insurance cartel contributing handsomely to Hillary's campaign and paying her generously for private speeches. It's not the insurance cartel's problem that healthy people aren't signing up for product in the droves that the White House originally predicted. It's not the insurance cartel's fault that sick people are gaming the system by daring to try and use insurance product, thereby forcing the cartel members to either drop out or merge, thus driving up rates.

As sure as the wind's gonna blow, Joyce, insurance companies will come and go, and merge, and screw you any way they can. So you better shop around. Try to get a bargain for your son, and don't get sold on the very first one. You gotta shop around. It is your duty as an American citizen.

Clinton also didn't bother asking the woman how many crappy jobs she has to work in order to make ends meet. She didn't ask if Joyce even has access to a computer or an Internet connection. She didn't ask if she has any time to spare in a futile quest to save a few bucks on her monthly insurance premium, which probably nears or even surpasses the amount the family has to pay in rent or their mortgage. She didn't want to know what it will cost Joyce in co-pays and deductibles, should she ever attempt to use her overpriced insurance.

To the contrary: Hillary bragged about working with her superdelegate "friends in Congress who are here" to magically cajole the private insurance predators into acting a little less greedy. Maybe reduce the co-pays a tad, if not the premiums.Yes, folks: these platitudes come from the same woman who calls Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All plan a severe case of magical thinking.

Hillary instead doubled down in implicitly blaming Joyce for not getting a better rate. Joyce's very typical horror story is apparently not what Hillary is used to selectively hearing. Her trite response is to keep on shopping till you drop  to save a buck on overpriced insurance product. Stop being such an inept consumer, Joyce, and maybe you won't keep feeling so sad and blue now.

Because in Hillary World, health is not a basic human right. In Hillary World, there are no people who must choose between taking medicine and paying the electric bill. In Hillary World, there is no precariat.

There are only consumers ripe for extraction and exploitation.

HR 676: Medicare for All. Everybody covered from cradle to grave. Pay a slightly higher tax rate and forget about shopping around till you drop, forget about premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

You better shop around. Voting for Bernie is probably still the best bang for your buck.