Friday, September 19, 2014

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Despite the official narrative of congressional Republicans and Democrats hating each other's guts, the political Bickersons of the Senate were simply unable to resist the aphrodisiac of more military violence. They indulged themselves in a little afternoon delight on Thursday. They achieved a rare public simultaneous orgasm. Flushed and spent, (half a billion dollars' worth of high tech weapons for complete strangers while the long-term unemployed are forgotten) they left town to smoke a cigarette and search out more johns donors. And President Obama, who'd enjoyed the porn spectacle from afar via TV, also declared himself well-satisfied. Let the bombing, killing and maiming continue into perpetuity. Let the masters of war laugh maniacally all the way to the too-big-to-fail bank.

Meanwhile, the White House "sternly told the NFL that 'it's important that the league get a handle' on its own extra-judicial violence. (concussions and fractures and mayhem on the field are still fine, however, especially when they're accompanied by patriotic music and military trappings and sponsored by tax-sheltered defense and big oil contractors and other masters of war.)

 Apparently, the White House legal eagles who write their own secret extra-judicial opinions, allowing a president to maintain his own Kill List as well as to unilaterally declare war whenever he feels like it, missed the class in law school where they teach the doctrine of Clean Hands:
A senior administration official told reporters during a briefing about a new White House public awareness campaign on preventing sexual assaults on college campuses that "the most recent revelations of abuse by the NFL players is really deeply troubling."
"The NFL has an obligation not only to their fans but to the American people to properly discipline anyone involved in domestic violence or child abuse and more broadly, gain control of the situation," the official continued.
"Many of these professional athletes are marketed as role models to young people and so their behavior does have the potential to influence these young people, and it's one of the many reasons it's important that the league get a handle on this and have a zero tolerance."
Or what? President Obama won't do his Fox pre-game Superbowl interview, or have a White House Superbowl party to fete The Troops, or Michelle won't give a Pentagon-produced patriotic shout-out to the military before urging "folks" to enjoy the game? Will Obama decline to open the air space above the stadium so that a trillion dollars' worth of military aircraft can do a flyover?  Could this annual domestic display of American might, violence, and exceptionalism actually be banned?

Not likely. There is too much money at stake. Anyway, this latest presidential scolding defines violence only in the narrowest, political wedge issue sort of way:
The official's comments come as the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are facing criticism after numerous off-field incidents involving players including Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and, most recently, Jonathan Dwyer.
After the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, "The President is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that's true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that's bigger than football - and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it."
Of course, domestic violence in the military is exceptional. The Obama administration has notoriously caved to the wishes of the generals, refusing to order that prosecutions and investigations of rape and other violence against female troops be taken outside the macho chain of command.

He actually used the same limp finger-wagging language with the Pentagon as he did with the NFL:
President Obama issued a stern statement on the problem of military sexual assault on Friday, telling military leaders they have one year to "step up their game exponentially" in preventing and responding to sexual assault cases.
Congress passed a defense authorization bill on Thursday night that includes some military sexual assault reforms, but does not go so far as to take those cases out of the chain of command. Obama said the onus is now on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military leaders to carry out those changes and produce results.
"I have also directed that they report back to me, with a full-scale review of their progress, by Dec. 1, 2014," Obama said. "If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world."
So the rapes continue unabated while Obama waits for his full-scale review. Additional reforms "may" be required, but it's not a sure thing. They need to "step up their game", because war, like football, is an exceptional American sporting event. I am sure that the female victims of sex crimes are relieved to know that their plight is being framed as an athletic event by the Big Guys.

Hitting a woman or child is not something a real man does, regardless of whether it happens in the public eye (and officials have to pretend to care for awhile) or behind closed doors. A real man indulges his violent tendencies by proxy and from a safe distance... like from a Kill List. For instance, when Obama decided that a 17-year-old girl was a threat, she went right on The List.

It has never been revealed whether he did actually end up drone-punching her to death. That is because all Predator strikes are conducted behind closed doors, far away from prying elevator cameras. And anyway, Obama has been declared legally exempt from accountability, thanks to his complicit bipartisan friends in the Senate. If they can't see or refuse to acknowledge the innocent women and children getting killed because of appropriation bills they passed, then they can still pretend to care about pay parity for females, and Obamacare-covered birth control.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

When a father and his two children testified about their own ordeal-by-drone before Congress last fall, only a few legislators even bothered showing up. Obama himself was ironically meeting with the manufacturers of the same drones that had killed the family matriarch, and obviously missed their appearance on C-Span.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Obama's drones have killed at least 2500 people. These casualties include mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, and children. But these casualties do not officially exist.

Yemeni Drone Victims

"The idea of democracy has been stripped of its moral imperatives and come to denote hollowness and hypocrisy": so explained Paul Wellstone, one of the last great senators, before his untimely death, long before there was ever such a thing as a predator drone to add a robotic cover to the ruling class decay and state-sponsored violence against all humankind.

The time for the White House and Congress to get a handle on their own hypocrisy and to "step up their game" is indeed long past. They're moral losers who just can't stop marketing themselves as role models for the unfettered free market.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How To Starve a War Fever

The slippery slope to war is finally getting some much-needed sand thrown on it by the media -- even by some of the same newspapers and pundits who so unquestioningly cheer-led the last Iraq invasion.

Perhaps most important, the press is revealing the long-suppressed Saudi connection to 9/11, and exposing the Saudi elites' funding of ISIS,which is at least partly composed of remnants of their own private army. The Saudis have recently balked at putting their own "boots on the ground" to essentially fight against themselves, and that was one of Obama's prerequisites for America getting dragged back in.

Matt Stoller has written an especially illuminating piece which lays out Saudi Arabia's outsized influence on American foreign policy, and the role of petrodollars in financing various shadow wars and other secret machinations by the global ruling class.

The latest sabre-rattling is clearly aimed at toppling the Syrian government, long an aim of both Saudi Arabia and Israel and their neocon counterparts, still led by the unindicted Dick Cheney. The CIA and special ops have been fomenting this overthrow battle for awhile now, but Obama would "prefer" that the Congress now openly fund and back his efforts so as to spread future blame to all of us who never bothered to call our congress critters in futile protest. It's getting kind of hard to keep this secret war a secret any longer. And the beheading of two American journalists provides what they think is the perfect excuse to bring all their aggression out into the open. Obama himself was so rattled by the first murder, of James Foley, that he immediately had to calm his nerves by playing another round of golf, a big grin plastered on his face.

And there was bonhomie galore in the Oval Office last week as the president convened with his Republican frenemies and got their enthusiastic approval for what promises to be a very successful enterprise for the profiteers of the oil and "defense industries."

While some journalists are finally doing their jobs, there's still a vibrant propaganda machine whirring away and pumping its exhaust fumes through fiber-optic cables and into American homes. CNN, for example, has obviously been completely taken over by the Pentagon and the various intelligence "communities," whose bloviating is underwritten by the same oil and gas cartels and arms industry think tanks so desperate for more tax-sheltered cash. I wrote last week about one former ambassador, under criminal investigation in Europe for money-laundering his war profits, but still appearing on CNN to howl about ISIS coming to America to murder us all in our beds.  Lee Fang of The Nation names even more names.

CBS, whose news division president is the brother of Obama national security advisor Ben Rhodes, can also be relied upon to feed the fever. Veteran pundit Bob Schieffer did his bit on Sunday by shrilling that "we'll all get killed" unless we kill a whole bunch of people. The FAIR Blog has more examples of media quacks trying to feed the fever.

How then to starve the war fever? Hefty dosages of that tried and true antipyretic known as investigative journalism. Before you know it, millions of people will break a sweat, wake up from their fever dreams, and realize how badly they've been conned by the original political snake oil treatment. Hopefully it's still not too late to stop World War III in its tracks. 

As Charles Blow wrote in a recent excellent column,
When we invaded Iraq in 2003, about three out of four Americans approved of President Bush’s handling of the situation, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. Three years later, that approval had fallen by half.
We don’t want to look back three years from now and ask, “What have we done?”
An ABC News poll in early March of 2003 found that most Americans believed the Iraq war would last several months at most — it officially lasted nearly nine years — and nearly eight in 10 thought Iraq posed a direct threat to the United States at the time.
And the cost of that war, particularly in death toll, was staggering.
According to the website, more than 4,800 members of United States and coalition forces were killed between 2003 and 2013, as well as 468 contractors.
How to break a war fever? As I responded to Charles Blow, the immediate release of that long-suppressed Senate report on CIA torture would immediately knock some sense into people clamoring for revenge over the recent decapitations. So would the release of the whole cache of still-suppressed photographs documenting horrific abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American forces. So would those censored pages of the 9/11 Commission report, which allegedly tie the Saudi royal family directly to the attacks.

Secrecy is the enemy of democracy. Transparency from our public "servants"  and our right to know are every bit as crucial to our survival as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Joe Biden said "we must follow ISIS to the very gates of hell, because hell is where they reside."

 Actually, what we really must do is relentlessly pursue our own elected leaders and expose the shadowy moneyed forces controlling them before we all fall into the inferno.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nobody Could Ever Have Predicted

Happy sixth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Main Street! As President Obama so blithely assured us last week, America is bouncing back and bouncing forth to fight more manufactured Terror:
Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression.  Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back, America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.
Our technology companies and universities are unmatched.  Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving.  Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades.  For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history.  Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination (TM) and common goodness of the American people every single day –- and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future....
 America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden.  But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.  From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity.  These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.
Military Keynesianism (stimulating the arms and oil profiteers, a.k.a. "the economy," through endless war) is the only tool left in the tools' box. Or should I say the fools' box. The Best and the Brightest zombies have arisen from the grave, their ivy-covered marble tombstones miraculously untoppled. That is why President Obama remains so confident. Just as the titans of Wall Street paid no price for perpetrating the worst fraud in modern history, the warmongers of the Pentagon and the mainstream media have paid no price for the desecration of Iraq and its environs. Failing upward is the reward given to miscreants in a corrupt world.

Unless, of course, their supreme arrogance and self-confidence become miraculously doomed. I may be wrong, but it looks like despite alleged poll results, more people are against the latest war than are for it. The jingoism isn't quite so jingly this time around. People are noticing that the phrase "moderate Syrian rebel" has an oxymoronic ring to it. This is despite the growth of a deformed third branch of the Democratic Party. There's the pseudo-progressive Warren/Sanders branch, there's the centrist Hillary/Obama Wall Street branch, and now there's the all-inclusive Cheney Branch.

Because, if you're willing to follow Barack Obama, self-proclaimed heir to the unitary executive coup effectuated by Dick Cheney, then you might as well face it: you are a Cheney Democrat. It's a unifying experience, because both Warren Democrats and Hillary Democrats are both cordially invited to join in the exuberant bellicosity. You can be an enemy of the banks or a friend of the banks, but when it comes to embracing death, you are all partying under one big tent. Is there even one anti-war Democrat in Congress these days?

But back to the economy. Paul Krugman, who I thought might have written a column on military Keynesianism again in light of this latest outbreak of war fever, instead marked the sixth anniversary of the economic collapse by blaming the whole debacle on individual ignorance and careerism and giving the Obama administration the usual free pass. (Weaponized Keynesianism only comes in for a Krugman drubbing when the Republicans tout it.)
 In what sense did economics go astray? Hardly anyone predicted the 2008 crisis, but that in itself is arguably excusable in a complicated world. More damning was the widespread conviction among economists that such a crisis couldn’t happen. Underlying this complacency was the dominance of an idealized vision of capitalism, in which individuals are always rational and markets always function perfectly.
Krugman conveniently ignores the continuing corruption, the continuing criminality, and the de facto global fascist coup that has subsumed the world over the past 30 years. This unrestrained coup toppled the global economy six years ago, and threatens to do so again, thanks to toothless and meaningless "reform" passed to placate the masses. But Krugman hilariously blames "capitalist idealists" instead of financial felons. And then there's this:
You might say that this is just human nature, and it’s true that while the most shocking intellectual malfeasance has come from conservative economists, some economists on the left have also seemed more interested in defending their turf and sniping at professional rivals than in getting it right. Still, this bad behavior has come as a shock, especially to those who thought we were having a real conversation.
Krugman is falling into "both sides do it" sophistry again. Just who are these sniping, backbiting "economists on the left" who haven't gotten it right? He does not say. The erection of straw men certainly seems to be a prerequisite for a gig as a New York Times columnist. 

As for his claim that hardly anyone predicted the economic crisis, there is a mountain of evidence that says otherwise. The accurate predictors include Dean Baker, one of those economists on the left. He warned about the housing bubble in 2002 and again in 2004. The Wall Street Economists blog has more on the Cassandras.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman tepidly concludes, " if we’ve made a hash of things — and we have — the fault lies not in our textbooks, but in ourselves.

My published response:
The fault lies with economists and other "experts" willing to sell out their integrity to the highest bidder. In America as in most of the world, the ultra-rich dictate neoliberal policy. The academic sellouts at think tanks and universities have no choice but to follow the money if they want to keep their ivory tower perches. There are plenty of Rogoffs and Reinharts only too eager to cherry-pick the data, ignore facts, and throw intellectual honesty into their circular files.
Picketty was all the rage for awhile, until the plutocrats panicked and got politicians from both parties to bowdlerize the most extreme wealth inequality in history into the "opportunity gap" and the "achievement gap" and the "personal responsibility gap."
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has come out with a largely ignored report showing that by all measures, life for regular people is only getting worse. Without even factoring in the obscene wealth of the Forbes 400, the Fed founded that the wealth share of the top 3 percent rose from 44.8 percent in 1989 (late Reagan years) to 54.4 percent in 2013 (mid-Obama years.) The wealth of the bottom 90 percent fell from 33.2 percent in 1989 to 24.7 percent in 2013. Incomes and home ownership rates fell, while debt, both consumer and student, has risen.
It can be no coincidence that these economic woes are concurrent with skyrocketing incarceration rates, a massive surveillance and police state, and more war.
Jobs, not bombs. Schools, not prisons.

Read the other comments. People realize that the corruption and the stupidity and the militarization are all of a piece. This response from Tim Kane of Mesa, AZ was especially insightful:
You can tell who the bad guys are because they never mention demand side economics. They believe that "supply creates demand" (Hollande - the Socialist President of France) the most absurd thing. Build a buggy-whip factory and see how much demand that supply creates.
I think it can also be said that other problems in the news are related to this. People have too little bargaining power, that means too little wages, which means too little demand, and it then recycles downward.
A huge % of African Americans can't find a way to make a middle class standard of living with just one job. Republicans think "why should they be able to?". Then Ferguson happens.
In the Middle East people are suffering while those tide to Big Oil live in undreamt of comfort. This is all fodder for Jihadist doctrines. And not just in the Middle East, which is why so many people from the west are signing up.
In the 1950s and 60s in the height of the cold war, the issue was which system could give working people a better living: capitalism or communism. In the west they mixed capitalism with socialism creating the mixed economic system (New Deal in the U.S., social democracy elsewhere) resulting in the greatest golden age in history (global GNP doubled in 30 years - ie, grew more in 30 years than the prior 11,000 years since the neolithic revolution).
Somehow, since the end of the cold war, all that's done away with - and the world is falling apart, just as it did after 1929. Economists know this.
Obama's latest terroristic counterinsurgency is not only a war on ISIS. It's a deformed offshoot of the class war. That English-speaking beheader hails from lower-class Britain, which was also rocked by civil disturbances a few years ago, a direct result of the austerity imposed by the global oligarchy. Obama is pissed off because these jihadists have now essentially formed their own oil cartel. The beheadings by disaffected serial killers are only the excuse given to incite vengeance among the sheep. The real cancer of the military-industrial-spy-media complex can continue growing, while the president unilaterally dictates that a relatively minor malignancy, both fed by and feeding the beast, shall be cosmetically nipped and tucked with band-aid bombs.

War under Obama is like another branch of Obamacare: a neoliberal kludge dependent on so many moving parts that it makes "success" impossible. The inclusion of "moderate rebels" will turn out to be just as disposable a notion as the employer mandate. Boots will be put on the ground, but Obama will say they're walking on air. 

It's one more battle between and among wealthy criminal factions. And as usual, the poorer citizens of the world are the ones caught in the crossfire.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Regrets, They Had a Few...

.... but then again, too few to mention. 

Not that it would have meant anything in the grand horrific scheme of things, but reports that the Nobel Committee is now kicking itself in the ass over awarding Barack Obama the 2009 Peace Prize appear to be premature, if not entirely bogus.

Antiwar blogger David Swanson (or someone claiming to be David Swanson) today posted a purported missive from the "Norwegian Nobel Institute" which quotes one Thorbjorn Lagland as saying the committee joins with other Peace Prize winners "in expressing its regrets over the conduct of the 2009 prize recipient."

According to the Washington Post, the dead giveaway to the letter's fakery is that it contains the grammatical atrocity of “It remains the obligation of the Committee to disassociate itself from actions taken by laureates that frustrate rather than advancing [sic] the fraternity between nations." Also, there's the little issue that the head of the Nobel Committee denies both writing the letter and committing such a grammatical atrocity. So, either some underling in Oslo or actually anywhere could have punked David Swanson, or David Swanson could have punked everybody, or some punk pretended to be David Swanson and punked the whole Internet.

Not that he probably even gives a crap, but Barack Obama can now put his prize back on his nightstand where he can gaze upon it cynically every night before sleeping the sleep of the unbothered. Regrets? Say what?

"I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption,
 I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way."

The only Peace Prize the Nobel Committee has ever even hinted at regretting is the one given to Henry Kissinger in 1973, before his full, true murderous roles in the Chilean coup and the secret bombing campaigns in Southeast Asia were revealed to the world.The Nobel people will only allow that the Kissinger pick was "controversial." A prize once awarded may never be retracted, they say.  

Kissinger and Obama being honored as peacenicks have, in the words of Tim Lehrer, "made political satire obsolete."

But not irony. For alleged prankster/punking victim/satirist David Swanson also wrote a recent article about how to do fake news right. Oops. Those misplaced present participles will get you every time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bump and Gradgrind

Let's take a break from the trumped-up war on ISIS for a moment and turn our attention to the terror right here in America. Specifically, let's talk about the war on youth, and even more specifically, the war on poor students and unionized teachers.

Michelle Obama got one thing right at her "Reach Higher Prep Rally" in Atlanta the other day. She jokily referred to her traveling partner, neoliberal anti-union Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as her partner in crime.

What the Obama administration is doing to public education is indeed a crime: its cruel, billionaire-fueled Race to the Top-Common Core agenda is actually the antithesis of education. It's been called child abuse across the ideological spectrum. It's teaching children to un-think, to consume instead of to create, to compete instead of cooperating and caring for others.

To be fair, education in the age of Obama is only the latest variation on a classist theme as old as the oligarchy itself. It was the same scam in the last gilded age. Nearly a hundred years ago, British philosopher Bertrand Russell had capitalist education pegged as "the road to money, not the gateway to wisdom... a means of acquiring superiority over others; it is infected through and through with ruthlessness and glorification of social inequality."

Don't take my word for it. Let Mrs. Obama explain the goals of neoliberal education for herself... but only after her obligatory cool mom-in-chief (TM) dance routine, performed in a futile attempt to fire up her student audience:

Mrs. Obama: Well, I’m here today because all of that that I just mentioned -– all those tests, all the papers, the extracurricular activities –- here -- and I want you all to listen to this -- all of that stuff isn’t just important to get you through the day or even this year. Everything you are doing in school right now is critical to the rest of your life.
Study to the test, build up your college résumés through nonstop extracurricular activities, because the rest of your lives depends upon how well you can do the soul-killing Gradgrind. Getting enough sleep, kicking back once in a while, stopping to smell the roses, painting a picture, or reading just for fun? Not part of the neoliberal equation.
That’s why I’m here -- because I want you all to succeed. And I want you to understand how people like me go from being kids like you to standing here as First Lady of the United States. (Applause.) That’s my message to all of you and to all the students across the country who may be watching this today -- that your time in school is extremely important. And what you do here each and every day will set you up to achieve so many of the dreams that I know you have for yourselves in the years ahead.
Here's where Mrs. Obama departs from the pedantic Gradgrind teacher in Dickens's Hard Times and goes full Josiah Bounderby. That's the annoying up-by-the-bootstraps capitalist fraudster who inflicts guilt on a whole classroom full of inmates by incessantly bragging how, through sheer dint of grit and hard work, he rose up from the gutter to become rich and famous. He is such a "bully of humility" that at one point in the novel, his bloviating causes Gradgrind's daughter Louisa to literally pass out.

But, I digress... if you want to grow up to be Michelle Obama, here's what you need to do:
So first, the prep part. And one of the reasons why we’re here at Washington High is because you all already have a great head start. You have got teachers and counselors who are doing everything they can to help you get to college. Your school offers classes that give you college credit. And you’ve got access to special programs that will prepare you for careers in health sciences, business, finance.
Business and finance to serve the needs of Wall Street. Health sciences so that you may prolong the lives of Wall Street financiers, corporate CEOs and the rest of the .01% who possess more wealth than half the planetary population combined. Forget history, art for art's sake, theater, classic literature, the mental adventure and joy of learning. Those things will not help you succeed. Those things will only make you happy. Those things will only help you to think. And independent thought by the lower classes is anathema to CEOs and financiers. It makes their positions at the top of the teetering heap very, very tenuous.
So the first thing that you can do to prepare yourself for the future is to take advantage of all the resources that are right here for you. And to do that, you have to show up to school every day. Yes, attendance matters. You are not going to learn or get the support that you need if you’re not here. And then once you’re here, you have to completely commit to learning all that you can –- in other words, when you’re here, you have to challenge yourself. You just can’t -- you can’t be hanging out. You can’t just coast through. You can’t just take the easy classes. You’ve got to stretch yourself.
Since the students whom Mrs. Obama is addressing are mostly "of color" and from lower income families, there is that implicit racist assumption that all they want to do is have some fun, hang out, and skip class -- that is, when they are not taking easy-way-out classes like art or drama or music. It is an assumption that these kids need to be taught ethics and morals on a fairly continuous basis, lest they fall into the morass of critical thinking. Would the First Lady be talking this way to a group of students at the elite Chicago Lab School, or Phillips Andover Academy? Of course not. Nor, for that matter, would Nancy Reagan or Hillary Clinton ever have gotten away with scolding students at an all-Black school.

When rich kids "hang out," there is no price to pay. Minorities just normally have to work at least three times as hard as whites, because that's the way it's all set up. Michelle Obama never mentions changing the oppressive status quo -- she simply gives a "pragmatic" and  simpering pep-talk to the victims of the oppressive status quo. Don't ever dare challenge your oppressors as inherently unjust, kids. Just challenge yourselves. Work till you drop.
Because here’s the thing -- studies show that when you’re working hard and stretching yourself, when you’re struggling to solve a problem or read a book or write an essay, you’re actually making new connections in your brain. The brain is just like a muscle -- it needs exercise. And remember -- I want you all to remember, nobody is born smart. You become smart by thinking hard and challenging yourself. And that’s how you’re going to prepare your brain not just for college, but for the rest of the challenges that you’re going to face in life. And that doesn’t happen right away. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes planning -- and let me tell you, it takes a whole lot of courage. And I know this from my own experience.
OK. You knew the ubiquitous, guilt-inducing Personal Responsibility Profile in Courage was coming sooner or later: 
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents went to college. But I set a goal for myself: I wanted to go to Princeton University. So I sketched out a plan to get there –- which classes I needed to take, when I needed to take my SATs, when I needed to apply for financial aid. And I worked incredibly hard to execute that plan.My school was halfway across the city, so I had to get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning just to get to school, to study in the morning. Had to stay up late at night doing my homework because it took me forever to get home. And when I didn’t understand something, I had to drum up the courage to ask for help, and believe me, there was a lot I didn’t understand going to high school.
Studies show that adolescents who are chronically sleep-deprived are at high risk for mental, emotional and physical problems, both now and in later life. So if Michelle Obama isn't exaggerating when she brags about getting only a couple hours sleep at night in her teenage years as the price for an Ivy League education, it is no wonder that there was a lot she didn't understand in high school. The girl was exhausted and "stretched" to the breaking point! But I guess the health risks were well worth it. She's still here, after all, and looking pretty damned good. (thanks at least in part to servants, hairdressers and make-up artists on call 24/7.)
In other words, I had to take control of my education, had to set my own course for my future. And here’s the thing that I do know, which is why I am here and I’m not anywhere else in this country -- I am here because I know that every single one of you can do that, too. I know that. If I can do it, you can do it. There is absolutely no excuse. You are no better or no different than me. I didn’t have money growing up. I didn’t grow up in a nice neighborhood. But I am here.
Ah, the Bill Cosby/Oprah "no excuses" cudgel, the vapid noblesse oblige of helicoptering into Atlanta... when she could have gone to Detroit! But that would have been so awkward. A lot of those kids have had the water turned off in their homes because of their parents' inability to pay. And that would not go well with Mrs. Obama's corporate "DrinkUp!"(TM) campaign in conjunction with the bottled water industry.  She saved her high-priced water gig for a group of wealthy (and non-scolded) students at a private New York City school. Meanwhile, her Let's Move initiative is partnering up with an entrepreneur who invented a talking water fountain get people fired up (TM) as they slurp. Wish I were kidding. But I'm not. 

Let's to the gradgrind, though:
To the juniors and seniors, you all should be working hard to execute your plans. You should be studying for the SATs and ACTs. Let me tell you, my daughter, who is a junior, is studying for her tests right now. She studies every weekend, on the weekdays, in addition to her homework. I’m just telling you what one kid is doing, but I know that every kid in her school is doing the same thing. Got to fill out that FAFSA form, look for those scholarships and those grants that are out there just waiting for you. Got to start working on those college applications and essays starting now.
What utter bullshit. The Obama children will be accepted to the colleges of their choice, whatever their grades or test scores. The private school they attend does not teach to the test, nor even have class rankings. The Obama children are also traveling extensively, having fun, and do not spend all their waking hours grinding away like their mom. I guarantee it. There is no comparison between the Obama children and the students at Booker T. Washington. But the students at Booker T. Washington are supposed to feel something (guilt), knowing that the Obama children do their homework religiously even though it is not a prerequisite for their "success." The SATs are a for-profit, moral imperative when you are a child in America. To prove it, they've gotten rid of the creative and expository writing sections. Too hard, even for rich kids.
You’ve got to figure this stuff out. And the Internet is an incredibly useful resource. You can find all sorts of information online at websites like -- we’ll make sure your counselors have that information. -- if you haven’t heard of Khan Academy, it is a free, online educational resource, and they’ve created this new platform to help young people like many of you prepare for college. They’ve got all sorts of videos, checklists to help you plan your high school classes and activities; to search for schools that fit your needs; to fill out your college scholarships and applications. So thanks to websites like these, it’s easier than ever to before to take the steps to prepare yourself for the future.
Khan Academy, heavily subsidized by billionaire school privatization advocate Bill Gates, also aims to substitute online courses for living, breathing teachers. The Internet, even in homes where electricity is spotty, is such an incredible source! So what a nice, sneaky neoliberal shout-out by Michelle Obama. And don't even get me started on all the rip-off student loan predators out there, kept in business with the help of "partner in crime" Arne Duncan. A couple of examples of his perfidy are here and here.
MRS. OBAMA: But here’s the thing –- even if you’re working hard and doing everything right, there will still be times when things don’t go according to plan. That ever happen to you all?
 MRS. OBAMA: Stuff just doesn’t work out. Maybe something goes wrong in your family or with one of your friends. Maybe you don’t do as well as you wanted on the SATs or the ACTs. Maybe you fall behind in classes. And when things like that happen, it’s easy to get down on yourself. It’s tempting to just give up. But trust me, that’s just not the answer.
At this point in the speech, one of the human props standing behind Mrs. Obama gave in to gravity and suddenly crumpled to the floor in a dead faint. Exhaustion? Disgust? Hunger? Sleep deprivation? Humility-bullying victim? Named Louisa Gradgrind? Who knows. But the first lady was at the rescue with her reliably firm moral support:
She’s okay? It’s okay, that happens to a lot of people who have to stand up for a long time. We need one of our medics here. We’ve got a young girl who fainted. But it happens all the time. She’s going to be okay. Sometimes standing up -- if anybody is starting to feel tired standing up, bend your knees -- and eat your breakfast and lunch. (Laughter.) You okay? Make sure she’s okay, too, right here. Right here. Everybody else feeling okay?
Wow. Since when does fainting happen all the time? In the New Normal Serf Economy, I suppose it does. Mrs. Obama is right. A lot of these kids don't get enough to eat, given that a bipartisan cabal in Congress drastically cut food stamp funding last year. Maybe a trip to a Talking Water Fountain will knock some fear and sense and fullness into them! 

But whatever. Once the unfortunate optics of a crumpled-up heap of insensate human flesh were removed from Mrs. Obama's sight, she forged right ahead:
MRS. OBAMA: Are you all still fired up and ready to -- are you listening to me? STUDENTS: Yes!

 MRS. OBAMA: Do you hear what I’m telling you? STUDENTS: Yes!

MRS. OBAMA: Because I’m giving you some insights that a lot of rich kids all over the country -- they know this stuff, and I want you to know it, too. Because you have got to go and get your education. You’ve got to.
Oh, wow... not again. The kids are never allowed to forget where they come from, are they? They get condescendingly treated to the insider-y Secrets of the Rich, so that they too can aspire to become Rich on three hours of sleep a night, and lots and lots of Gradgrinding and Bounderbying. It's the dogma of Personal Responsibility... a dog-whistle to the racists and the plutocrats out there watching in TV land that these kids who have already showed up have to be further prodded, poked and guilt-tripped into working hard! Besides being a grind, you gotta have Grit and Determination. (TM) Plus, live up to the legacies of Booker T. and MLK! (the sanitized version of MLK, that is -- not the socialist part where he marched with striking sanitation workers, nor the pacifist anti-Vietnam war rhetoric part.)

I would be absolutely fired up if Michelle Obama suddenly snapped, developed some grit and determination of her own, and urged the adolescents of  America to help get the money out of politics, demand social and economic justice, march for civil rights instead of cramming for standardized tests, and question just why the hell it is that the post-Jim Crow social contract dictates they have to work so much harder than their more affluent peers, just to avoid being slammed into prison.

But that would take real Thought, leading to a social upheaval of epic proportions. Therefore, public education in the Age of Obama avoids the teaching of independent thinking like a plague of Ebola.

"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless to the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.” -- Bertrand Russell.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Teachout Moment

 (*Updated below)

I'm going to break my own self-imposed rule of never endorsing a political candidate by urging my New York readers who are registered Democrats to go to the polls today to vote for anti-corruption candidate Zephyr Teachout, and her running mate, net neutrality advocate Tim Wu.

Teachout is challenging Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic governor so corrupt that even the New York Times refused to endorse him in the primary. It also refused to endorse Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and one-time manager of Howard Dean's campaign, but only on grounds of her alleged political inexperience. Unlike other outliers of recent history (I'm thinking Jill Stein of the Greens) she's actually gotten some pretty good coverage by the mainstream media. Then again, she is still operating within the safe confines of the established party.

As the fate of that other "invincible" corrupt pol, Eric Cantor, revealed earlier this year, anything is possible when even the few voters who ever bother with primaries actually show up and express their disgruntlement with the status quo. And if only 350,000 New Yorkers express disgruntlement today, Andrew Cuomo could well be out on his ass.

Cuomo, after months of refusing to debate Teachout let alone even acknowledge her existence (with the exception of sending a bunch of young Goldwaterish creeps out to her rallies to heckle her and sue her on grounds of residency; he lost both the original suit and the appeal), now looks to be in state of muted panic. He actually got Hillary Clinton to make robo-calls for him. He's openly strong-arming, with the help of his multimillion-dollar war chest, people he has the power to make very, very uncomfortable if he squeaks into other term.

That includes progressive darling Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has openly endorsed Cuomo for re-election. De Blasio, in turn, had allegedly dog-whistled a warning to members of this own apparatus to steer clear of a direct challenge to the Cuomo machine.

There's this from the New York Post: (a Rupert Murdoch rag, but apparently they despise Cuomo enough to try to make Teachout the lesser-evil winner. She, like many conservatives including Cantor's successful challenger, is running on an anti-corruption plank.)
The largely successful pressure has been especially intense to stop endorsements for Wu, who is given a real chance of defeating conservative-turned-“progressive” former upstate Rep. Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s running mate for lieutenant governor, insiders said.

“Cuomo and de Blasio were pulling out all stops, making it clear that anyone who even considers endorsing Teachout or Wu will pay a big political price,” said a prominent Democratic activist.

“Cuomo especially is obsessed with Wu because he clearly thinks Wu has a chance to win, which would be a disaster for him,” the activist continued.
City Council members were told that pet projects would be endangered if they back either Teachout or Wu, said a source close to the council. “You wouldn’t believe how much we were intimidated and muscled,’’ said one.

Council members and state legislators were also warned that state-funded projects would be at risk if they publicly backed Teachout or Wu, several sources said.

Delivering some of the messages was Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s longtime aide and political enforcer, the sources said.
Zephyr Teachout herself has confirmed that some erstwhile supporters are backing out due to political pressure from the Cuomo machine. At this point, even the U.S. attorney who has Cuomo under criminal investigation for alleged witness-tampering and obstruction of justice has been mum on his probe in the weeks leading up to today's primary vote.

But stay tuned. Never say never. Even if Cuomo gets re-elected with Tim Wu as lieutenant governor, the Guv could be doing a perp walk before his second term is out. There's that little precedent of Eliot Spitzer being replaced by David Paterson on grounds of Spitzer's addiction to hookers.

A Teachout victory in New York would actually be huge. It could well turn the national campaign theme of 2016 into "It's the Corruption, Stupid."

*Update, 9/10: Teachout got over a third of the vote (NYT has good wrap-up here) and won handily in my particular county (Ulster). Pretty good for a law professor with no money going up, literally, against Wall Street. This vote tally represents a slow but sure public repudiation of neoliberalism and the worst income disparity in history. It should also give impetus to more "leftist" challengers to Queen Hillary (including but definitely not limited to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who to get my support, would still need to repudiate Forever War and the surveillance state.) Anti-war and anti-corruption could be a winning ticket. The trick, of course, will be to get any alternative candidates the same kind of coverage that Teachout enjoyed in the Times and elsewhere. It is probably too late this cycle, since the entire Congress is filled with corrupted politicians. But the disgust is out there. Change is coming. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word IsIs

How to declare war the slick Clintonesque way?  Parse it to death. Drone on and  on and on until the free-floating angst of a nation is rendered into acquiescence. Bore them to death with clinical academic discourse. The only bodies shown on TV will be the headless ones. The only atrocities ever shown on YouTube will be the ones committed by the latest in a whole series of CIA-manufactured renegades.

Assure anyone still paying attention that there will be no American boots on the ground despite the fact that at least a thousand pairs of boots are currently on the ground. Assure them that it will take at least three years to exterminate whoever dares stand in the way of the profiteering oil companies which dictate American foreign policy. However, be sure to substitute the words "American interests" and "ethnic minorities" for the corporations and their multibillion-dollar luxury bunker known as the embassy in Baghdad. Assure the lesser American people that other, lesser countries are also being asked to "chip in," so that the atrocities and the terror can be spread around. Brag that you've already got a whole baseball team (nine) of them, but neglect to mention that to the extent it exists at all, it's a farm league made up entirely of back-benchers and cheerleaders, with an occasional at-bat by a pinch hitter: maybe a Jordanian pilot flying an American bomber.

Obama, whose first presidential campaign was also declared the winner of AdWeek's 2009 marketing campaign contest, who disingenuously claimed on TV that optics are not his forte, will very deliberately and very optically and very officially declare yet another surge in Forever War this Wednesday. It is, of course, purely a coincidence that this date coincides with our great National Terror Holiday, known as Nine-Eleven.

Let the government mouthpiece of record try to explain:
The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to senior administration officials.
The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.
Oh, and they're going to Syria. It's the next best thing to Disneyland for the neocon war hawks. They're already measuring their pudgy little fingers for their World War Series rings:
“Everybody is on board Iraq,” an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the policy is still being developed. “But when it comes to Syria, there’s more concern” about where airstrikes could lead. The official nonetheless expressed confidence that the countries would eventually come around to taking the fight into Syria, in part, he said, because “there’s really no other alternative.”
Once you've already "done" Afghanistan and Iraq, (and Yemen and Pakistan) there really is no alternative but to go on to the next theme park of terror. Might as well -- it's in the neighborhood, only a no-exit away on the Bellicose Highway.
As Bertrand Russell wrote nearly a hundred years ago in "Why Men Fight," there are only two ultimate aims of war: wealth and power. War is the manifestation of a profound lack of impulse control.“The state makes an entirely artificial division of mankind and of our duties toward them: towards one group we are bound by law, toward the other only by the prudence of highwaymen. The State is rendered evil by its exclusions, and by the fact that whenever it embarks upon aggressive war, it becomes a combination of men for murder and robbery.”

One such felon is George W. Bush's former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.N., now under investigation for money-laundering of the billions of dollars and euros he officially looted in his capacity as a "diplomat." The suspect, one Zalmay Khalilzad, is still active in the war business in his capacity as founder and president of Gryphon Partners, which "advises companies and wealthy individuals on business opportunities in several industries and regions, including high-risk territories."

According to AP, "he sits on the boards of the National Endowment for Democracy, America Abroad Media, the Mideast studies center at Rand Corp., the American University of Iraq and the American University of Afghanistan. He also is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and writes about foreign policy issues and frequently appears on U.S. news shows."

You can watch this war profiteer/media personality teaming up just last month with one of Obama's former "national security" advisers/media personalities to foment more war in this recent CNN (The War Channel) clip.

 If we do not have enemies, we create them. ISIS is the pure creation of neo-con warmongers and the military contractors and Wall Street capitalists. It's only the latest mutation in the toxic stew sloshing endlessly in the closed feedback loop of money begetting power begetting death begetting more money, more power, more death. The nightmare quest for "national security," in turn, begets nothing but endless insecurity.

Is it any wonder that American leaders are escalating international war in the wake of Ferguson and increasingly unsustainable wealth disparity? It is imperative that this dying republic herd the citizens into the veal pen to bray helplessly and fearfully at more and more manufactured enemies, thus keeping us in line on the domestic front. Just when we have met the Enemy and he is the plutocratic Police State (not us) our attention must be diverted to a different, external menace. That is the meaning of the word ISIS --  in the words again of Russell, "it is the essence of the State to suppress violence within and facilitate it throughout."

Come to think of it, World War I has never really stopped raging, has it?