Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Yellow Journalism, Purple Prose

Frank Bruni is upset because President Obama's unemotional war rhetoric reminds him of his messy kitchen, when it should be reminding him of gourmet comfort food, the flag, and guns.

Bruni, who used to be a food critic for the New York Times, was elevated (to great fanfare) to the op-ed page as the Gray Lady's First Openly Gay Columnist (TM). His function is to spread the joy of neoliberal identity politics in the absence of any true liberalism, either at the paper of record or in the country as a whole. As such, he frequently uses food imagery in his centrist-leaning political columns; his latest is no exception.

Since he is soon to replace Maureen Dowd as hump-day columnist (she's down to one op-ed a week since her move to the Times magazine) Bruni is obligingly copying her style as well as her increasingly shallow content. Notice, for example, those trademark one-sentence paragraphs, hitting the reader with all the impact of a stalk of wilted celery: (sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
There are things that you think and things that you say.
There’s what you reckon with privately and what you utter publicly.
There are discussions suitable for a lecture hall and those that befit the bully pulpit.
These sets overlap but aren’t the same. Has President Obama lost sight of that?
To be a writer who counts the white space between sentences as consumable content, or not to be? That is the one-sentence question.

Now he boldly tiptoes, much like Obama evolving toward marriage equality, into slightly bigger paragraph mode:
It’s a question fairly asked after his statement last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with Islamic extremists in Syria. Not having a strategy, at least a fixed, definitive one, is understandable. The options aren’t great, the answers aren’t easy and the stakes are enormous.
But announcing as much? It’s hard to see any percentage in that. It gives no comfort to Americans. It puts no fear in our enemies.
OK, I take the Maureen Dowd slur back. Bruni is actually beginning to rival Tom Friedman in turgid Manichean froth. If you can't comfort Americans while making the rest of the world writhe in agony, then what good are you?
Speaking at a fund-raiser on Friday, he told donors, “If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart.” He had that much right.
But it wasn’t the whole of his message. In a statement of the obvious, he also said, “The world has always been messy.” And he coupled that with a needless comparison, advising Americans to bear in mind that the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the rapacity of Putin, the bedlam in Libya and the rest of it were “not something that is comparable to the challenges we faced during the Cold War.”
Set aside the question of how germane the example of the Cold War is. When the gut-twisting image stuck in your head is of a masked madman holding a crude knife to the neck of an American on his knees in the desert, when you’re reading about crucifixions in the 21st century, when you’re hearing about women sold by jihadists as sex slaves, and when British leaders have just raised the threat level in their country to “severe,” the last thing that you want to be told is that it’s par for the historical course, all a matter of perspective and not so cosmically dire.
Where’s the reassurance — or the sense of urgency — in that?
So much for the style. Now let's deal with Bruni's substance, which dutifully adheres to the war-mongering propaganda being churned out 24/7 in pixels and over cable: Video (probably faked) of one murder (all too real, but the actual date and circumstances remain unclear.) Crucifixions, drumming up the fundamentalist Christian vs. fundamentalist Islam outrage. The "rapacity" of Putin, vs the rabid exceptionalism of USA. Women being sold as sex slaves! -- Bruni absolutely has to include this War On Women wedge issue, carefully designed to ignite the tribal fighting spirit in fatigued anti-war Democrats. 

And what Bruni calls "cosmically dire" is actually pretty tame, compared to such historic atrocities as the Holocaust, the Rwanda genocide, the casualties in both World Wars, the Mongol conquest, the Napoleonic Wars. And on, and on, and on since the dawn of humanity.

This columnist doth protest too much, methinks. He is beginning to sound like a Richard Harding Davis wannabe. Remember the Maine
Is the president consoling us — or himself? It’s as if he’s taken his interior monologue and wired it to speakers in the town square. And it’s rattling.
When he came along, many of us were fed up with misinformation and “Mission Accomplished” theatrics and bluster. America had paid a price for them in young lives.
And we were tired and leery of an oversimplified, Hollywood version of world affairs, of the Manichaean lexicon of “evil empire” and “axis of evil.” We longed for something less rash and more nuanced.
More nuanced than Bruni's "cosmically dire," maybe?

I don't know about you, but what I "long for" is not more genteel war propaganda, but a slashing of the Pentagon budget, the dismantling of the surveillance state, the prosecution of Wall Street bankers, the banning of money from politics, universal health care, and ad infinitum.

The problem is not unenthusiastic warmongering or lukewarm jingoism. The problem is corruption and greed and the death of democracy.
But there’s plenty of territory between the bloated and bellicose rhetoric of then and what Obama is giving us now. He’s adopted a strange language of self-effacement, with notes of defeatism, reminding us that “America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything”; that we must be content at times with singles and doubles in lieu of home runs; that not doing stupid stuff is its own accomplishment.
Bruni dog-whistles his support of Hillary Clinton, who also recently derided Obama's "don't do stupid stuff" foreign policy. Bruni is a centrist through and through. His definition of liberalism is celebrating rich and famous females and shilling for charter schools. But now back to manly-man shilling for war:
 In The Washington Post on Sunday, Karen DeYoung and Dan Balz observed that while Obama’s no-strategy remark “may have had the virtue of candor,” it in no way projected “an image of presidential resolve or decisiveness at a time of international turmoil.”
And no matter what Obama ultimately elects to do, such an image is vital. But in its place are oratorical shrugs and an aura of hesitancy, even evasion, as he and John Kerry broadcast that the United States shouldn’t be expected to act on its own. Isn’t that better whispered to our allies and negotiated behind closed doors?
Echoing Hillary Clinton to some degree, Senator Dianne Feinstein just complained that Obama was perhaps “too cautious.”
Yeah, that whole tan suit debacle of a press conference was a real kick in the veneers of the style-conscious, wasn't it? And better yet, if wonder woman icons like DiFi and Hillary complain, then Frank Bruni can definitely be counted upon to exclaim, "You Go Girl!"

I love the way that Bruni, in this age of unprecedented government secrecy and unaccountability, suggests that the president needs to make his public bullshit simultaneously strident and reassuring, confining all his unpleasant truths to rooms where little ears cannot hear them. Actually, the truth is that this president is a lot more bellicose and rapacious than he lets on. Don't forget that although he has killed an estimated two thousand or so civilians with his predator drones, he is very modest in not wanting to reveal the gruesome details. He has acknowledged being very good at killing people only to his most intimate circle of friends and advisers.

The Bush style and the Obama style are different. But the all-important substance is the same.

The probable reason that Obama was able to enjoy a game of golf immediately after acknowledging the beheading death of a journalist is that he is so used to such images that he has been rendered numb by them. Plus, he is not exactly a fan of journalists. He either subpoenas/threatens them, censors them, stalks them, even jails them without trial when they're foreign and he can get away with it. This is a man who has seen the photos of Abu Ghraib and refuses to release them. This is a man who has read 6,000 pages of torture porn so graphic that even a redacted version is considered too inflammatory for the delicate sensibilities of Americans whom Bruni imagines only wanted to be lulled and soothed and comforted by a paternalistic, yet testosterone-fueled, commander-in-chief.

Here is my published Times comment to the "Obama's Messy Words" column:
"But there’s plenty of territory between the bloated and bellicose rhetoric of then and what Obama is giving us now."
Since when did the bellicose verbiage ever go away? Have you watched CNN lately, with its brand-new made-for-Doomsday soundtrack setting the tone for the bombast-on-crack of the chickenhawks?
 There's plenty to criticize Obama for (drone killings, the war on whistleblowers and journalists, CIA torture censorship, etc), but his perceived lack of a verbal middle ground between bloodthirstiness and sangfroid is the silliest complaint I've heard all day. Are you sure this column wasn't ghost-written by Maureen Dowd?
Obama was right to criticize the paranoid sabre-rattling of people who've never been to war, nor have any intention of sending their own kids into battle. The Cold War's Cuban Missile Crisis was indeed scarier than ISIS. We don't have nukes aimed at us.... at least not yet, despite the hysteria of the Neocons.

September 1st is the 75th anniversary of (the start of) World War II. With so many of our leaders and columnists slavering for a reprise, it makes me grateful when Obama, despite his many other faults, sounds so bored.
 What would you have him say? That it's a tepid war instead of a cold war? Maybe World War 2.5 instead of 3?
With his recent escalation of bombing in the Middle East and his coming confab with NATO to discuss military action against Putin (who has nukes) I hope against hope that his actual deeds will, for once, match his bland words.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The War on Job Corps

The first Monday in September was originally designated as "Labor Day" for the sole purpose of appeasing working stiffs who'd revolted against management in the bloody Pullman Strike of 1894. The legend that the Knights of Labor founded the holiday is only half true. That union did once hold a parade on the first Monday in September -- but Labor Day's eventual legal designation as a paid national holiday was essentially an olive branch proffered by nervous robber barons and the politicians who've always served them so well.

The other pro-labor day, May 1st, is observed in most other civilized countries and all but ignored in the United States. The irony is that this global May Day was inspired by Chicago's 19th century Haymarket Massacre. What happened in America not only didn't stay in America, it has been hidden and suppressed even as its pro-worker spirit has spread throughout the rest of the globe.

But aren't we constantly being reminded how exceptional America is? In America, a country of laws for everybody but the banks and the surveillance state, May 1 has been officially designated "Law Day." You are legally required to go to work, and not agitate.

Even Labor Day USA has been bowdlerized into a forced celebration of the last day of summer, the last weekend we can fire up the grill, cavort at the beach, and gambol in the town square to the sound of all-American brass bands and  politicians in taupe suits and flag pins tepidly wheezing out one tired platitude after another.

Labor Day USA is a special day to perpetuate the myth that the bosses, the politicians, and the workers are all part of one big American family. We get a three-day weekend! It ranks right up there with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July!  It is one of onlya handful of  paid national holidays. Unless, of course, you happen to work at Walmart or McDonalds, or wherever minimum wage is paid and paid days off are a Marxist pipe dream.

Labor Day USA should be extra-special this year, because it marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ's Job Corps Program, a natural Great Society offshoot of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps. Although "unknown to most Americans," (by design?) it serves 60,000 of us every single year. As Time reports,
In total, some 2.7 million young people have participated in the Jobs Corps since President Lyndon Johnson launched the program as part of his Great Society initiative in 1964. And just like in the 1960’s, participants come from the harshest of circumstances. Still, 80 percent of program graduates leave with a full-time occupation.
With a successful track record like that, you'd think that President Obama and Congress would be champing at the bit to expand this program in order to alleviate our record wealth disparity and epidemic of wage stagnation and chronic unemployment and underemployment. Of course, you would then be thinking wrong. This, after all, is Exceptional America. The budget of the Job Corps has been cut in every succeeding year of the Obama administration, with the usual "mismanagement of funds" and "poor performance" excuses thrown out to justify the slow but sure whittling away of this valuable social safety net program.

Obama has proposed a permanent reduction in the Job Corps' "slot capacity" in his 2015 budget. Translated from Orwellian Newspeak, this means that about 10,000 at-risk youths will be left with no place to go. Since Job Corps centers feed and house participants as well as train them for careers, this will mean 10,000 more at-risk youths on the streets in such dystopian locales as Chicago and Ferguson.

If you needed any more evidence that the Obama administration's first allegiance is to tax-evading plutocrats who dictate prosperity for themselves and austerity hardship for the rest of us, look no further than the White House's own budgetary web-page for an explanation of why he is making these draconian cuts that harm some of the most vulnerable members of our society:
The Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with promoting the welfare of workers, job seekers, and retirees, which are key Administration priorities as our economy continues to recover and we work toward strengthening America’s competitive edge globally. The Department’s budget reflects the need to make sacrifices in many areas in order to invest in job creation and boost competitiveness for years to come. Accordingly, the President’s Budget provides $12.8 billion for DOL, a 5 percent reduction from the 2010 enacted level. To support effective job training programs, the Budget shifts resources from an underutilized portion of formula grants for states to a new Workforce Innovation Fund. Savings and efficiencies are achieved through a reduction in funding for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services; and through a 25 percent reduction in the Job Corps construction budget. The Budget increases funding for worker protection and mine safety programs that were underfunded in the previous administration and are critical to Americans’ health and safety.
Translation: the little people must sacrifice in order that multinational corporations may profit globally and perpetually. No need to waste money on training programs for the dregs of society when the ravenous plutocrats can scrape the dregs in any corrupt Banana Republic at their disposal.("invest in job creation and boost competitiveness.")

The "workforce innovation fund" being diverted from the direct government-run Job Corps will include $53 million in grants to private businesses for use in training programs that in former democratic times, were funded by the employers themselves. Priority will be given to corporations that can prove they don't discriminate against veterans or the LGBT community and thus enable the predatory rentier class to feel good about themselves. It's all part of the neoliberal agenda of private profit at public expense that was sparked by Ronald Reagan and is raging full steam ahead under Barack Obama.

And to make creeping fascism more palatable to the American public, the job of demonizing the Job Corps is falling to the usual suspects in the sycophantic press. The tactic of destroying public education by closing "poor-performing"  schools in poor neighborhoods and firing unionized teachers is now also being extended to the Job Corps training centers. Rather than blaming their own poverty-inducing policies, the ruling class is blaming the programs that get in the way of profit and privatization. They forget to mention that any alleged poor performance is directly linked to low funding. And to the orchestrated epidemic of poverty itself.

One such Job Corps center, in a pristine yet indigent section of rural Oklahoma, is being closed in the wake of a Washington Post report revealing that half its trainees are either failing to complete the program or are failing to find jobs in their chosen fields upon graduating. The neoliberal agenda is trumpeted right in the scare-mongering headline:

 Great Society At 50: LBJ's Job Corps will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion this year: Does It Work?

Need we even read the article to get the answer to that question? Are readers ever even informed of the high success rate nation-wide? Reporter David A. Farenthold (more about him in a minute) cuts to the chase:
In the middle of an Oklahoma wildlife refuge — at a campus so remote that buffalo wander in — about 100 young people are taking classes in the hope that the U.S. government can turn their lives around.Given the statistics, most of them will be disappointed.
So many turns of slanted, right-wing free-market phrase in just a few little sentences. Job Corps: on a veritable game preserve in the middle of Nowheresville. A hundred youths, barely distinguishable from the herds of smelly cattle plodding around, are passively relying on the Nanny State to turn their lives around, when they could be acting proactive in Bootstrapville. They are instantly dehumanized and reduced to disappointing numbers.
This is the Treasure Lake Job Corps center, an outpost of a job-training program created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The program began with a noble, untested idea: Government could save troubled youths one at a time, taking them in and teaching them a trade.Today, students here learn subjects such as cooking, nursing and plumbing from employees of the U.S. Forest Service. A year of education and job placement costs taxpayers about $45,000, more than tuition at Georgia Tech.
There's that outpost at the back of beyond characterization again, when they should be out on the streets where the Washington Post can see them. And just think, they could even be going to college and owing a fortune in student loans to predatory lenders!
But at last count, only about 49 percent of Treasure Lake’s students completed their job training.
Guess what, Farenthold? The graduation rate at Georgia Tech has fallen for the fourth straight year, and is now at an abysmal 31%! So tear that college down, pronto, lest the taxpayers be peeved. (On second thought, never mind: their football program is still making scads and scads of dough. And even the non-grads are still on the hook for those usurious loans. So it's all peachy-keen.)

But Farenthold continues weaving his web of lies anyway:
The struggles of this place — and of the Job Corps program as a whole — have come to illustrate two powerful legacies of the Great Society. The first is that the government has vastly expanded its ambition to improve individual lives.
The "this place" (populated by "those people") phrase hovers uncomfortably close to a racial dog whistle.

For that matter, so does the bit about the government expanding its ambition to improve lives. As Paul Krugman and others have proven time and time again, the federal government has actually reduced the rate of spending on social programs, to the lowest levels in decades. Nor is this smear job on Job Corps  the first time Farenthold has spread the lie of government overspending and government inefficiency in programs that benefit ordinary people. He even tried to trash Medicare this summer by comparing it to the Russian Mafia. It seems that disabled people have been ripping off the taxpayers by joy-riding on motorized wheelchairs! Lucky for us, he approached the wrong source to get his scoop. Dave Farenthold, sycophant to the plutocratic centrists, got himself well and truly exposed by Wheelchair Junkie.

Another clue to Farenthold's deviousness is that he not only takes right-wing budgetary flim-flam man Paul Ryan seriously, he is seriously turned on by Ryan's lanky, sexy, sadistic wonkiness and their mutual hatred of Medicare and old people everywhere.

But I digress. Farenthold also cannot stand the thought of undeserving younger people daring to make themselves at home where the buffalo roam when they could be wage slaves at Walmart or drive-by shooting victims:
But Job Corps is still very popular in Washington, among lawmakers of both parties.

It is still considered a success — at least as “success” is defined now, after a hard and disappointing 50-year war on poverty.
The poor are still alive in places. The war on the poor has not been a success. So let's blame the poor, and rile up the white people.
The Job Corps program has 125 centers across the country. The students come as volunteers, some recruited by an online ad campaign: “Every day is a fresh start at Job Corps.”
To enroll, they must be from low-income families and at least 16 years old. More than half lack a high school diploma. Once accepted, nearly all students live at a center rent-free. Most stay there between nine and 11 months. In addition to academic and vocational classes, students also learn how to write a résumé and how to interview with an employer.
 It is an expensive way to get somebody a job.
What a bunch of moochers, living rent-free when there is such a demanding plethora of rent-seeking predators for whom too much is never enough. These kids learning a trade are snatching the caviar right out of the Kochs' mouths as far as Farenthold is concerned. He goes on to mutter over his keyboard that if Job Corps is such a great success, why are people on food stamps while these ghetto kids are living the life of Riley in a charm school? Really. Read his whole article for yourself, because I am feeling way too nauseous to continue.

But anyway, Farenthold's hatchet job on Job Corps was apparently a huge success, because just days before Official Labor Day USA, the Obama administration scheduled the Oklahoma training center for closure. And the Labor Department is looking for even more centers to shut down. With a 51% non-completion rate, Treasure Lake is only the first among many public treasures ripe for the privateer grant-plucking. Pretty soon even a 75% retention rate will be declared officially inefficient.

Obama to Youth: Go Jump In the Lake

When Job Corps students quit, it's called a failure. When college students quit, their institutions  simply have a non-retention problem. Even if both classes of student dropped out at approximately the same rates, (and Job Corps has much better stats) you don't hear the plutocrats calling for colleges to be shut down. That's because while both are in the business of education, one category is a money-maker for corporations and the other is not.
And speaking of quitters and slackers, look at Congress, due back in Washington this week after a month of laboring for private dollars on the public dime and against the public interest. Of the 9,732 bills and resolutions currently before them, only about 5% will become law.
That is a 95% failure rate.
Cut off the spigot, and throw the bums out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Double Agent Doubletalk

I had to read this McClatchy piece twice, just to make sure I wasn't seeing double.

Here's the gist: a criminal lawyer who used to defend CIA torturers, and who was confirmed to a government post in 2009 only upon his solemn oath that he'd recuse himself from any investigations having to do with the CIA, has been given the go-ahead by the Obama administration to censor the Senate report on CIA torture and other patriotic crimes against "folks."

Senate CIA Moll Dianne Feinstein (D-Surveillance State) has absolutely no problem with this, while Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) is reprising his role as vocal but impotent CIA critic. His sidekick, Ron Wyden (D-OR/NYC)  is MIA for this particular article.

Elsewhere among the cognoscenti, the usual concerns have been sparked about the prima facie impropriety. And the usual suspects in the White House along with their Security State overseers are striving mightily to douse the sparks with the usual drivel. In other words, just trust them -- they can all police themselves. Just like Wall Street polices itself and there is no economic meltdown, mortgage fraud, income inequality or stagnating wages.

The gory details:
Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a former defense lawyer who represented several CIA officials in matters relating to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Now he’s in a key position to determine what parts of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report will be made public.
Litt’s involvement doesn’t appear to be an ethics issue, at least by the legal definition. But experts say that while it may be acceptable on paper, his involvement in the review should have been a red flag.
No, it was actually a white flag that this investigation has been a sham from the get-go. The usual suspects are performing the usual parsing, differentiating between legality (yawn) and ethics (whatever they define it as.)
Litt, who’s now 64, was confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate in 2009, contingent upon his agreement to recuse himself from situations that involved his former clients. He referred to the potential conflict in his responses to the Intelligence panel’s questions for the record, submitted during the course of his confirmation process.
“I represent several present and former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in matters relating to the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists,” Litt wrote to the committee in 2009. “By statute, under the rules of ethics and by virtue of my ethics agreement that has been provided to the committee, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving these clients . . . including decisions about similarly situated individuals.”
So what might have happened is that he gave a friend a list of all his clients, and then that friend redacted those names from the Senate report so that Litt could later claim clean hands on his pesky ethics promise. He couldn't possibly have censored stuff about his own clients, because that stuff had been pre-censored for his convenience. Or, so my cynical supposition goes.
Litt’s prior representations, however, didn’t seem to bother Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and who approved the arrangement.
“I spoke with Bob Litt about this matter and believe he will be fair, and negotiations thus far have shown that to be the case,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The DNI’s designated ethics official has reviewed the situation and determined there is no conflict that would necessitate a recusal.”
Key words: I spoke with Bob Litt . It is a truth universally acknowledged that as long as DiFi is kept within the secrecy loop, she is okay with flouting democracy. If the secrecy folks say they're not doing anything wrong in secret, then who are we to challenge them? You'd think we weren't living in a democracy or something. So in retrospect, I guess it is unfair of me to say that DiFi can be flouting something that doesn't even exist in the first place.
The conversations between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the administration about Litt’s past representations and their approval of his involvement effectively waive charges of a conflict of interest, at least by rules of the legal profession.
“If he advised them on their legal exposure by virtue of their conduct and this report blasts them for that same conduct, he should not participate with regard to that part of the report,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in legal ethics. “However, if everyone involved waives their objections, it wipes the slate clean.”
Now we're really getting into the Orwellian verbiage. Only if Litt was planning to condemn his former clients in his capacity as their former defense lawyer should he recuse himself from the censorship project. But, since he either already decided to absolve them or since their names have already been erased from the report anyway, then everything is hunky-dory in Ethics World. "Everyone involved" does not, of course, include the American public. Stephen Gillers just kind of admitted that "legal ethics" is an oxymoron.
All of Litt’s former CIA clients also would have to waive a potential conflict, Gillers said. Administration officials wouldn’t say whether that occurred.
Because they're the Most Transparent Administration Ever (TM). Since Litt's former clients do not officially exist, how can they waive their rights?
Citing attorney-client privilege, Litt declined in 2009 to name several of his clients who were involved in “nonpublic investigative matters.” Later in his responses to the committee, he said that some of the matters for which he’d provided counsel to CIA officials were classified.
Neither the White House nor Feinstein’s office would characterize Litt’s prior representation during his time in private practice. When asked whether Litt had represented former senior CIA officials involved in the interrogation program, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, also citing attorney-client privilege.
It's the old "it's classified" defense again. Attorney-client privilege exists even if the clients are wraiths. On the other hand, if they're wraiths, they cannot exist. Wraiths ain't got no rights.
 According to reports in The Washington Post, Litt previously represented a CIA analyst, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, who played a central role in the bungled rendition of Khaled el-Masri. El-Masri, who was revealed to be innocent, claimed to have been tortured by the agency.
Bring me the head of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky! Oh wait.... she is a rightless wraith. This name assuredly does not exist in the 6,000+ page Senate Torture Report. But wait! Bikowsky was not only allegedly the inspiration for the glorified CIA torturer character in the infamous CIA-scripted  "Zero Dark Thirty" film, she remains one of Obama's favorite analysts. She even got promoted, despite failing miserably at her job. That whole sordid story is here.
“I have been concerned all along about conflicts of interest related to the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study,“ said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the panel. “I urged the president in April to have the White House lead the declassification process instead of the CIA. . . . The redaction process has not been conducted in accordance with my request, and I remain concerned about who continues to lead and drive the process.”
He doesn't remain concerned enough, however, to just go ahead and leak the whole unredacted report, or accuse the Obama administration of fraud, corruption and deceit.
It’s been a long, difficult history for the panel’s study on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, which has been a source of major deterioration in the relationship between the agency and the Senate oversight committee. The report’s executive summary is nearing public release. But the White House and its chief spy agency have effectively stalled even that process.
The Intelligence panel began compiling the report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention, rendition and interrogation program in 2009. The report, although completed in 2012, has been held hostage because of fierce debates between the agency and the panel.
Release it already!  You cannot hold mere bundles of paper hostage unless you want to. Unless, of course, our elected officials are all kidnappers and terrorists. Or in a best case scenario, unpatriotic cowards who are not willing to go to jail for the sake of a principle, like Chelsea Manning. On second thought.... 

Those disputes culminated last month when the agency revealed that it had spied on the computers of committee staffers who were compiling the report. The agency also revealed that, during the course of the spying, CIA officials had falsified evidence against the committee staffers in order to charge them with mishandling classified information.
Feinstein’s panel voted to declassify the nearly 500-page executive summary of its report in April, but that’s been indefinitely halted because of disagreements over the report’s blackouts. The document that was returned to the committee after the executive branch’s declassification review was rendered incomprehensible due to redactions, according to Feinstein and several of her Democratic committee colleagues.
Anything to keep the folk-torturing details secret for as long as possible. Incomprehensible crimes committed by folks whom Obama has deemed to be "patriots" are already incomprehensible enough, DiFi. Release the damn report!
  The crux of the redactions, officials said, are the pseudonyms used to identify CIA officials involved with the program. Feinstein and several of her fellow Democrats appealed to the White House that it _ not the agency _ lead the declassification process for the executive summary.
No can do, DiFi. Obama has enough on his plate already without the added stress of having to make up initials to hide the identity of Alfreda Bikowsky.... or even worse, his BFF and Kill List partner, CIA Director John Brennan.
Their appeals fell on deaf ears, as the White House has deferred to the agency’s leadership throughout the declassification effort. White House national security Council? (sic) representative Caitlin Hayden defended Litt’s involvement, as well.
“Bob Litt is one of the administration’s strongest proponents of transparency in intelligence, consistent with our national security, and he and we are fully committed to ensuring there is no conflict of interest as the administration continues to work to see the results of the committee’s review made public,” Hayden said in a statement.
The White House remains in a committed relationship, with all its torrid transparency conducted behind closed doors as they work together to ensure that the tattered tortuous remains of torture are rendered into literary black sites.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Now, release the damn report.


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/26/237763_in-senate-cia-fight-on-interrogation.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Note to readers: I will be away, so little to no blogging for the rest of the month.
Please feel free to leave comments in the interim. 

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/26/237763_in-senate-cia-fight-on-interrogation.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/26/237763_in-senate-cia-fight-on-interrogation.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

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Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/26/237763_in-senate-cia-fight-on-interrogation.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/26/237763_in-senate-cia-fight-on-interrogation.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Billionaire's Pledge to the Lowly

The one and only reason that Sean Eldridge will stay honest if you elect him to Congress is because he's already got so much money that he is virtually bribe-proof. Since he is married to the privacy-destroying cofounder of Facebook, he has your interests at heart. Yes. He actually does come right out and basically say that to a group of "folks" who are either nodding in agreement or just nodding off in a political hack-induced stupor. You decide:

I've written about Sean before. (I actually made a mistake in that other piece: he is a billionaire, not a mere multimillionaire.) He's the guy who fled from an interview with the Politico gossip rag earlier this year, for fear that they would call him out as a plutocratic carpetbagger trying to buy an election. Which they did anyway, without his cooperation.

Sean Eldridge: Vote for Me because I am filthy rich.

Suck On This

Two months after the Obama administration, in a cave to Big Tobacco, weakened its own proposed rules on the sales and advertising of e-cigarettes, the World Health Organization is now urging a complete about-face.

"Vaping" is dangerous:
(Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) stepped up its war on "Big Tobacco" on Tuesday, calling for stiff regulation of electronic cigarettes as well as bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to minors.

In a long-awaited report that will be debated by member states at a meeting in October in Moscow, the United Nations health agency also voiced concern at the concentration of the $3 billion market in the hands of transnational tobacco companies.
The WHO launched a public health campaign against tobacco a decade ago, clinching the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Since entering into force in 2005, it has been ratified by 179 states but the United States has not joined it.
It's no big surprise that the United States has refused to help control tobacco in other parts of the world. The Obama administration and those before it have been such a friend to Big Tobacco that there is even a clause in the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership  that would supersede any anti-smoking legislation now in place in partner countries. The tobacco industry would be allowed to hook millions of children in Indonesia and other impoverished countries on their poisonous product.

Malaysia, for example, already has an epidemic of pediatric smokers on its hands. And, with an estimated 60% of the adult population already addicted to tobacco, the problem will only get worse. From Politico: 
When Malaysia’s trade negotiators have pushed a carve-out for tobacco in a section of the deal that would otherwise allow businesses to challenge whether a country’s laws and regulations meet its international trade obligations before an independent panel, the United States has balked and instead called for an approach that Malaysian officials think would leave their country exposed.
 “The U.S. government’s proposal on tobacco does not go far enough. It is insufficient to protect the government’s sovereignty to do their utmost to protect public health,” said Mary Assunta, a senior policy adviser for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. “Tobacco companies should not interfere with this, nor challenge governments using the free-trade platform.”
Even after Obama visited Malaysia this spring and saw the smoking epidemic for himself, the clause favoring the unrestricted predation of the tobacco industry reportedly remains in the proposed treaty. One famous Indonesian toddler was able to kick his two pack a day habit, but there are plenty more potential addicts where he came from.

And why not? The White House has even adamantly refused to protect the migrant children who, cynically exempt from our own domestic child labor laws, slave away in the killing fields of Big Tobacco and thus are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning through their constant handling of the toxic leaves. If a scathing Human Rights Watch report against that child abuse didn't sway Obama, then why should WHO change his mind on vaping? Not even lobbying by Michael Bloomberg, one of the world's richest plutocrats, has been able to stop the stampede of this powerful industry of death.

Children Laboring in Tobacco Field

It really shouldn't shock anyone that preventing even precious American children from ordering bubblegum and chocolate-flavored nicotine poison on the Internet or being forced to watch the ads on TV is not on Obama's to-do list.  It was his former budget director, Sylvia Mathews-Burwell, who relaxed the FDA's proposed e-cigarette rules to protect minors right before she was confirmed as this country's ironically-named Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The WHO reports that even second-hand "vapor" from e-cigarettes may pose a significant health risk, especially to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. So, it'll be interesting to see if the conservative right-to-lifers in Congress will Just Say No to their tobacco lobbyist pals clamoring for continuing deregulation. Even the sexy e-cig ads sound right-wing, agitating as they do for "freedom." In any event, the propagandists of poison sure have been keeping very busy, photo-shopping the Ayn Rand brand to market to a whole new generation of hip libertarians:

Although the number of teens experimenting with the candy-flavored e-cigarettes has doubled since 2008, the White House has said it wanted more detailed grisly evidence of harmful effects before it "revisits" imposing more stringent control. As in war, there are apparently acceptable levels of collateral damage (injury and death) before an artificial neoliberal red line is crossed. A finite number of emergency room and morgue visits may occur before profits are curtailed.

Here are just some of the dangers:

The vapors in electronic cigarettes contain nano-particles which trigger inflammation, potentially leading to asthma, heart disease and stroke. The vapors may render antibiotics less effective against pulmonary bacterial infections. The solvents in the sweetly-flavored concoctions contain known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde. The adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine, which immediately raises the heart rate and blood pressure. Symptoms of withdrawal from "vaping" are the same is from quitting cigarettes: depression and crankiness.

But of course, Big Tobacco has no shortage of "scientists" willing to obfuscate the issue through the construction of straw men. According to Reuters, one group of experts actually opposes an anti-vaping campaign because it might take attention and money away from other anti-smoking efforts. Banning e-cigarette advertising will bring the cancerous Marlboro Man back to life on every billboard in America if we don't let the kids vape at will and resurrect nicotine advertising as a force for good after a 43-year ban! 

Another marketing ploy is to pimp out e-cigarettes as Nicorette gum-like "stop-smoking aids" which are actually beneficial to your health. 

As one Internet sales site brags, they don't stink, they're relatively cheap, they won't set the house on fire if you fall asleep while sucking in bed, the list of health risks is not yet nearly as extensive as decades and decades of studies of the effects of actually lighting up have  shown, and best of all: they are cool. Your friends will not shun you, even if you suck.

As usual, follow the money. Wells Fargo estimates that profits from e-cigarettes will exceed those of regular smokes by the year 2020. World-wide sales reached $3 billion last year. 

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me. -- Ayn Rand, libertarian goddess, smoker, and lung cancer fatality.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Holy Balloon Bursts

I wanted to believe.

I hoped that Pope Francis was the real deal, that he was the true enemy of predatory capitalism, the true champion of poor people. But it seems that he's just another protector of predators.

From Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times comes this shocker graphically detailing the unspeakable crimes of one of the pope's own high-ranking personal envoys:
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — He was a familiar figure to the skinny shoeshine boys who work along the oceanfront promenade here. Wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his balding head, they say, he would stroll along in the late afternoon and bring one of them down to the rocky shoreline or to a deserted monument for a local Catholic hero.
The boys say he gave them money to perform sexual acts. They called him “the Italian” because he spoke Spanish with an Italian accent.
It was only after he was spirited out of the country, the boys say, his picture splashed all over the local news media, that they learned his real identity: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
“He definitely seduced me with money,” said Francis Aquino Aneury, who says he was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasingly larger sums for sexual acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money.”
So much for the new pope's new "zero tolerance" child abuse policy. Maybe we misunderstood. Maybe it only applies to run of the mill parish priests and not to important diplomats wearing golden mitres. For, instead of leaving the privileged predator at the scene of his own crimes to be dealt with by the local justice system, the plutocratic pedophile was safely spirited out of one of the poorest places on earth to the safe haven of the Holy See. Wesolowski has actually been spotted wandering around the neighborhood, defrocked of his priestly garb yet still free to prey (and pray.)
The Vatican says that because Mr. Wesolowski was a member of its diplomatic corps and a citizen of the Holy See, the case would be handled in Rome. But even many faithful Catholics in this nation, home to the oldest Catholic cathedral in the Americas, say they are unsettled that a Vatican official could have been using children for sex, yet was not arrested and tried in their own country.
“From the pure standpoint of justice, he should be tried in the country where the acts took place because the conditions for trying him will not be the same elsewhere,” said Antonio Medina Calcaño, dean of the faculty of law and political science of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. “But all we can do is hope that the courts in the Vatican will treat this with the severity that it really deserves.”
Goodstein's article goes on to recount, in gruesome detail, just what Wesolowski allegedly did to the impoverished children of the Dominican Republic. In the worst case, the papal nuncio actually seduced one of his young victims with the promise of anti-seizure medication for his untreated epilepsy -- but only if the child did what he was told.

 When a Santo Domingo TV station was tipped off about him, the Vatican bigwig simply enlisted another priest to act as his procurer. That priest has since been thrown in jail, apparently ranking too low to be "spirited" out of the country.

Meanwhile, although there are "indications from Rome" that the pope is concerned about the case, he has apparently not seen fit to strip Wesolowski of his diplomatic immunity and thus allow his extradition back to either the Dominican Republic or to his native Poland, where he is also wanted for questioning.

When the nuncio was recalled last fall, the Vatican at first even denied that the move had anything to do with child abuse allegations. He was officially convicted in June. The Vatican also refused to divulge how he answered the charges against him or if he will suffer any penalty besides being stripped of his finery:

UNICEF reports that half of all Dominican children live in poverty, thus making the island (Hispaniola) shared with Haiti a magnet for predators -- be they child molesters, drug cartels, or multinational corporations. In a place where the economy and business are booming while children are starving and going without food and medicine, your average slimeball can rest assured that it's a go-to paradise for all manner of mayhem. It's a country where income disparity is extreme and where there has been a long sordid history of government corruption. But even a banana republic's criminal justice system seems to take child sex abuse more seriously than the Vatican.

Suffer the little children, indeed.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Ripening of a Sewer Socialist

I guess it could have been worse. Bernie Sanders could have totally lost it and hurled an imported Ferguson hand grenade at his Town Hall protesters last weekend instead of just hurling some pretty harsh invective at them. I guess it's easy to tell hecklers to shut up when you also have an armed Vermont state trooper firmly planted between them and you.

You can watch the clip here.

The protesters, from Occupy and the Code Pink anti-war group, were upset that their senator, along with every single one of his 99 compatriots, had voted to send more financial aid to Israel to support its war against Gaza, where nearly 2,000 people have been killed so far this summer. The shit really hit the fan when Sanders parroted the standard line: that missiles fired from the most densely populated open air prison on the planet come from densely populated areas and therefore Israel is justified in killing populations. He even hinted that ISIS is infiltrating Gaza. Now, that is a claim that even the neo-cons aren't making. Yet.

Sanders is a self-identified socialist who ran as an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and who fancies himself the great progressive alternative to a President Hillary Clinton.  The dead giveaway that his pseudo-campaign is just flimsy window dressing designed to make Clinton's coronation seem like a hard-fought democratic battle is the smarmy way he talks about his alleged nemesis: "I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton and she has accomplished a lot of very positive things in her career. But I’m not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people."

Wow. If that's the way to get all fired up and ready to go, Sanders might as well throw in the towel right now.  His wishy-washiness makes even the consensual Barack Obama look like a roaring liberal lion. Bernie isn't quite sure that anointing presidents is kosher. He'll have to ponder that one.

It's the same way he's always qualified his criticism of Obama -- from the president's proposed cutting of Social Security benefits to his coddling of Wall Street: "I support the president, but...." or "Obama has been a disappointment, but he can still save his presidency."

Heaven forfend that the lone resident erstwhile "sewer socialist" of the Senate actually condemn a sitting corporate president.

And last weekend's Town Hall was by no means the first time that Sanders let his socialist mask slip and let his war-mongering propensities shine through. When Bill Clinton was bombing Kosovo in 1999 and anti-war protesters showed up at his Burlington office to stage a sit-in, Sanders instructed his staff to call police to have them removed.

 When the World Trade Center was bombed on 9/11, then-Rep. Sanders initially voted against the Patriot Act, but later approved funding for it.  And although he initially voted against the Iraq War, he approved all later appropriations bills funding it And although he initially voted against creation of the Department of Homeland Security, he approved all later funding to keep it growing, and growing, and growing.

Sensing a pattern? Bernie Sanders is the useful idiot who pretends to take various bold stands in order to impart the illusion that we still live in a functioning democracy. When it comes to the war and surveillance states, anyway, he has more in common with Barack Obama than he does with Eugene Debs. Ron Jacobs of CounterPunch thinks Sanders's  record is a mixed one, his bellicosity tempered by his work for veterans, his approach necessarily pragmatic to ensure that regular people can survive in a cutthroat neoliberal world. Without the grotesquely expensive F-35 being headquartered in tiny Vermont, for example, how could Vermont even consider single payer health care and other progressive programs?

Also writing in CounterPunch is self-described Vermont radical Jay Moore, who is unsparing in his criticism of "Bombing Bernie":
Bernie was still an “avowed socialist” when he started out his electoral career in the early 1980s. He proudly displayed a portrait of Eugene Debs over his desk in his Burlington mayoral office. But today Bernie never even uses the term, “working class,” much less talks about what socialism means. That’s been totally dropped from his vocabulary as he seeks higher and higher offices. His populist rhetoric, often at time indistinguishable from right-wingers who advocate “America First,” is now all about saving the threatened American middle class. Lost is any sense that maybe the middle class got to where it was not only by virtue of the hard work he extolls but also by living in an imperialist country that benefits off the exploitation of workers and others in the Third World. There is no sense that maybe that American middle class standard of living is indefensible if we are going to move to a more sustainable way of living on the Earth sharing its resources in a more equitable manner. Genuine socialists, like Eugene Debs, are revolutionary internationalists. Rock bottom as a matter of principle is building solidarity for the working class and oppressed people all over the world.
Meanwhile, conservatives are ecstatic that Sanders is defending Israel's bombing campaign against what they variously describe as the Hamas supporters, racists and anti-Semites showing up at his town halls. Mediaite, for example, approvingly opines that Sanders is more moderate than many of the people he actually represents. RealClearPolitics just cut to the chase and characterized anti-war activists as "anti-Israel." 

One of Sanders's aides, pointing to his recent bipartisan compromise on Veterans Administration reform with Neocon John McCain, allows that Bernie "may have mellowed a bit as he's gotten older."

Except, I guess, when he's going all Archie Bunker on his own constituents and telling them to go stifle themselves.

"Shut up," he explained