Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Deep bows, then proceed

A young lady wearing a campaign button came up to me at a Union Square park bench this weekend and asked me if I supported President Obama. She was probably charged with fund-raising for the campaign or perhaps to sign up volunteers for the trips out to the Pennsylvania and New Jersey districts that might matter in November. (New York, a safely blue state, won’t.)

I responded that although I had actively worked for the aforementioned in 2008, I had no particular interest in the outcome of the vote this year. She seemed rather taken aback by that statement, so I added, ‘I see it as a choice between Wall Street A and Wall Street B’. I didn’t and don’t really want to hear other people’s opinions on that topic, so I didn’t give her a chance to answer and left.

I hope to have many more opportunities to refuse to take sides in this kabuki election. As the ballot is secret, I don’t have to say what I will do once inside the booth or even if I know.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Is a new debacle brewing for the NYPD?

The Etan Patz case holds a special place in the minds and hearts of this city. Patz was the original missing child, the first to appear on milk cartons and a haunting image—an 8-year-old Everykid with a fetching grin who begged to be allowed to walk the two blocks to his bus stop by himself, to be a big boy. The first time his parents relented, back in 1979, he disappeared and was never seen again.

Now, there’s a confessed suspect, and the mayor, the police commissioner and the tabloids were all over each other to be the first with the news. Everyone wanted a piece of the triumph especially after a highly publicized dig in a basement last month came up short, despite a cadaver dog’s indications of human remains.

There’s only one problem: the whole thing stinks. The alleged killer, 51-year-old Pedro Hernández, confessed to strangling the child. But Hernández also confessed to disposing of the body a block away from the crime (Patz was never found) and also just happens to be bipolar and schizophrenic with no history of pedophilia or violence. People confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time, and the city fathers are looking shamelessly over-eager to declare themselves genius detectives with little hard evidence. One can imagine the impact on the grieving family if this turns out to be another round of highly visible bungling.

The NYPD and the criminal justice system in the city are not having a good spring, which may have further provoked incautious reflexes over the two-decade-old Patz case. The Times just exposed a long-standing practice by Brooklyn prosecutor Charles Hynds of ‘consulting’ with ultra-orthodox rabbis on sensitive child molestation cases when upstanding Jewish men are accused. The devastating two-part article by Ray Rivera and Sharon Otterman described a pattern of vicious harassment of accusers’ families by the insular orthodox and Hasidic communities based on the rabbis’ insistence that aggrieved parents come to them first and avoid civil authorities. (Parents who disobeyed were ruthlessly persecuted.) The pattern is painfully familiar from the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse saga, but the Hasidic leaders’ political clout remains intact due to their capacity to deliver huge blocs of votes with a single nod.

The Hasids’ argument is that a pedophilia accusation can ruin the reputation and life of men falsely accused, which would be a reasonable concern if it were balanced by any worry about the lives of molested children. (One advocate for orthodox children victimized by pedophiles became incensed when he realized how frequent sexual abuse lay at the root of their adjustment problems.) The NYPD and prosecutors aren’t shy with accusations against non-orthodox Jews—witness the case of the alleged ‘Gentleman Groper’, Karl Vanderoude, who was frog-marched across the city’s tabloids two weeks ago, then found to be completely innocent with ironclad alibis. I wonder how much the experience of being shown to the world as an violent perv will affect Vanderoude’s employability in today’s troubled economy—but he had no powerful religious leaders on his side with whom to threaten prosecutors, and the tabloids are free to accuse anyone they like.

All this comes on top of the Department’s ongoing inability to reform itself on a much deeper level of endemic racism, trigger-happy officers (e.g., the Sean Bell assassination, the Ramarley Graham shooting, many other lesser-known cases), official fraud, and the grotesque stop-and-frisk policy that permanently criminalizes young black and Hispanic men. (The city is set to rack up 800,000 of these bogus stops this year, a 25% increase.) In the past year, NYPD officers have been accused of running a criminal gang out of one precinct, planting drugs on innocent detainees (one cop has confessed), and two high-profile rapes, one of which occurred a block away from my apartment. Then there’s the Adrian Schoolcraft accusations, that the city has an ongoing arrest quota system for beat cops while simultaneously downgrading serious crimes to make the statistics look good for Commissioner Ray Kelly and the mayor.

The NYPD was also caught racially profiling Muslims to snoop on their mosques and social organizations and no doubt to drum up skeery terror cases with agents provocateurs a la FBI—not that anyone cares much about that. And finally who can forget the Department’s shoddy performance over Occupy Wall Street, the kettling, the pepper-spraying, the beatings of journalists and general abuse of anyone who dares protest Wall Street greed. (Kelly, let us recall, once was head of security for a major brokerage house, Bear Stearns.)

All in all, the Department is not looking good these days, and the unseemly attempt to crow victory on the Etan Patz case isn’t going to help. Nonetheless, that won’t stop many commentators in this Most Liberal of All Cities from insisting that Ray Kelly should be our next mayor. If that doesn’t work, Democratic poobah, moneybags and Wall Street suck-up (Senator) Charles Schumer has another idea—he proposed last year that Kelly now head the FBI.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Skeery sentiments from Very Bad Alexis

Alexis Tsipras is talking a lot of sense, aside from a few ‘gaffes’ of the sort that mainstream pundits love to jump all over when they set out to bury a threat from dangerous outsiders to their smug club. He is the unknown dark horse from a small, leftish, Greek political faction party that came from nowhere to dominate their recent elections, thus setting off panic attacks throughout the Old World financial and industrial elites.

Tsipras is unpolished, but it’s remarkable what simple good sense he’s expressing. It’s a welcome contrast to the bizarre fealty displayed by Very Serious People in Europe to their own failed strategy. ‘Failed’, in the limited sense of not achieving what they say they want: economic stability and growth. But the European bankocracy has been quite successful in its real goal: crushing the post-war social contract and welfare state that emerged from the catastrophic wars and social upheaval of the twentieth century. Sixty million people died before the old buggers got around to re-engineering their societies to halt political extremism and mass suicide, but hey, that was decades ago. There’s money to be made today!

Tsipras says the austerity fetish has not worked, which is obvious to anyone not holding a Ph.D. in economics. He also agrees that Greece’s corrupt, feather-bedded, books-cooking model of governance is a disaster, but disagrees that ‘reform’ should be accomplished solely on the backs of youth, the elderly, the unemployed and the destitute. Rich Greeks should be forced to pay taxes, he insists, and the creaking duopoly that pawned Greece to the international banks should be swept away.

The Guardian’s Helena Smith asked Tsipras if he was as dangerous as people say, to which he replied with the horrifyingly radical notion that the Greek people should have something to say about what is being done to them.

So far, I believe there hasn’t been any real discussion, just as there was no political negotiation in Europe before the memorandum [of bailout conditions] on the terms and ways of confronting Greece’s fiscal problem. The memorandum was a political decision that was taken without consulting the Greek people, and it has proved catastrophic. . . . After two packages of financial support that were accompanied by very harsh measures, recession remains at monumental levels, unemployment has soared, social cohesion has collapsed, and Greece is in danger of a humanitarian crisis. And on top of this, we're not seeing results. Neither is the debt being reduced effectively, nor is the deficit; and nor is recession subsiding. Consequently, we can’t insist on a programme that has proved catastrophic and ineffective. . . . If you have a sick patient, and you see that the medicine you are giving him makes him worse, then the solution is not to continue the medicine but to change the medicine.

Words of a truly dangerous madman! How dare he refuse to genuflect at the altar of fiscal probity, Saint Angela and The Market? Instead, Tsipras actually referred to the effects of the EU policy on people, namely the people of Greece.

We have never been in such a bad place. After two and a half years of catastrophe, the Greek people are on their knees; the social state has crumbled; one in two youngsters is out of work; there are people leaving en masse; the climate psychologically is one of pessimism, depression, mass suicides. We cannot accept that this is the future of a European country. And precisely because we recognise the problem is European, and it will spread to the rest of Europe, we are sounding the alarm bell. . . . No one has the right to reduce a proud people to such a state of wretchedness and indignity. What is happening in Greece with the memorandum is assisted suicide.

One of the justifications for the EU-led attack on its population’s survival is the country’s decades of mismanagement and fibbing about its books. Tsipras doesn’t disagree:

New Democracy and Pasok, the two parties that were in charge of the fate of the country all these years and took it into the eurozone, worked on the basis of easy profit on the stock exchange, easy loans and the false consumer needs of the Greek people. . . . To find work you had to go around MPs offices in the hope that they would find you a job. It was a system that did not give opportunities to young people. . . .They didn’t leave anything behind, any infrastructure, when Greece had positive growth at 7% or 8%. Where did it go? It went into the pockets of certain corrupt and wealthy [individuals] and banks, to those who were paid kickbacks for defense procurements and constructions for the Olympic Games. It didn’t go into building a better social state. We didn’t build better schools or better hospitals, and now Greek people are in a much worse place to confront the crisis than, say, the French, the Spanish and other Europeans.

Tsipras refused to bait Germany and the Germans. Far more troubling than crude nationalism to the system grinding up the Greek populace is this definition of friends and enemies:

The war that we are experiencing is not between nations and peoples. On the one side, there are workers and a majority of people, and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds.

Smith then reminds him that Greece is on life support with the IV drip in the hands of its international bankers.

But who is surviving? Tell me. Greeks are not. Banks are surviving, but Greeks are not surviving. In reality, we have the salvation of Greece with the destruction of the people of Greece. What, ultimately, is Greece if it is not the people who live in this country? It’s not the mountains and the plains. We can’t say we’re saving a country when its people are being destroyed. The loans are going straight to interest payment and banks.

Be afraid, Greeks, be very afraid. A demented radical is loose in your midst! By no means cast your vote for him next month! Or else!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cops frame Occupy with 'terror' b.s.

We should have expected this: after years of setting up Muslim and Arab residents on terrorism charges through the use of agent provocateurs, now we are witnessing the same tactics applied against white kids who dare object to militarism.

The Chicago meeting of NATO is a legitimate venue for protesting the country’s war-making activities, but that apparently didn’t go down well with the local brass. Cops rousted two kids from Florida and one from New Hampshire out of their sleeping bags last night and charged with them terrorism for supposedly preparing to throw Molotov cocktails at Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s house. Please.

The owner of the raided apartment said he makes note incendiary devices but home-brewed beer, which explains the equipment seized. One report suggests that a police agent had been talking up some nutty scheme, which was used to bust the visitors for this ‘terror plot’. From all appearances, it won’t stand up long in court, but with today’s headlines on the arrests, cops can declare mission accomplished.

The guys’ lawyer denounced the arrests as ‘trumped-up’. Another Occupy spokesperson noted that the same detainees just had a run-in with cops, filmed them and had been threatened by them for doing so.

Luckily, the guys are not from Pakistan nor have Muslim names, in which case they could easily get railroaded by a properly terrified jury. But the whole thing stinks, and while the Justice Department isn’t directly involved in the case, it’s hard to imagine that the Feds are completely in the dark about the anti-Occupy tactics being deployed in this case. On the contrary: there is already evidence accumulating that the whole nationwide crackdown on Occupy was centrally coordinated.

I don’t see how an objective observer not fastened at the hip to the Democratic Party can deny that the Obama government is racking up a worse record on civil liberties than W’s. In any case, the counter-attack has followed the same script: bait Occupy’s mass response to abuse and taint it with accusations of violence while turning a blind eye to the wacko white guys carrying assault rifles to their Tea Party rallies.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

All hail jail for Espada the Horrible

A jury finally wiped the smug smile off the face of one of the most loathsome criminals to occupy political office in the state of New York, which is saying something. Pedro Espada, Jr., was indicted by outgoing state attorney general (now governor) Andrew Cuomo for systematically looting the publicly-funded Soundview primary health clinics serving poor people in the Bronx—for which he deserves much worse than the dozen years of prison he is likely to get on the four counts of embezzlement he was found guilty of Monday.

I took the trouble of reading the entire complaint when it was filed and recommend the experience to anyone wishing to experience the joy of seeing a real scumbag get his just desserts. Espada not only paid himself an obscene salary to preside over the clinics, he also padded the place with his relatives, used the clinic credit card like a lottery jackpot and palmed the theft off as ‘reimbursement’ for his unused 14 annual weeks of vacation leave.

However, the state Democratic Party should be put into the next cell for permitting Espada to reach the presidency of the state senate, no less, to stave off his deal with the Republican bench. This was how they rewarded a guy who thought nothing of going to a high-end tailoring shop on the East Side and then stiffing its workers for the bill. (He looked natty outside the courtroom—no doubt in the stolen threads.)

The jury remains in deliberations on similar charges brought against Espada’s son [bringing up the rear in the photo]. Let’s hope they get on with it, and if there’s a deadlock, that
prosecutors retry the whole thing. Justice--yum!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Too late

Dems and Repubs are showing their egg-covered faces on the news shows in the wake of the latest banker debacle as JPMorgan Chase tries to swallow its $2 billion (or is it $3 billion?) in gambling debts before more start to show up. But despite the posturing, neither side has much to be proud of.

Our Republican banker whores truly have no shame. Their spokespeople, like Corker of Tennessee on The News Hour tonight, try to spin this obvious malfeasance of what is government/taxpayer-backed money by blaming [are we sitting down?] government regulations! The Dodd-Frank law that they systematically tried to block, then turned into a horror of complexity to provide plenty of loopholes for their banker bribemeisters, is now at fault for being . . . too complex!

Barney Frank couldn’t stifle his contempt for this exercise in cynicism on the morning news as his Republican banshee counterpart repeated their obfuscatory talking points. But the Dems have nothing to brag about. When Obama had the TBTF banks by the balls in his first months in office, he and his party collectively bobbled them. This was not a flaw but a feature, a strategy to protect the banksters from the pitchforks of an outraged populace, and it’s a strategy they continue to pursue today with considerable success. Just as the ‘center-left’ parties of Europe faithfully bowed to the Merkel-Sarkozy austerity madness over the last two years, ours preferred to protect the bankers rather than confront them. They still do.

Barney Frank, Carl Levin and the rest of the ‘reform’ crowd on Capitol Hill (rhetorically juiced by Obama himself) can’t answer the Republicans’ appallingly cynical but nonetheless germane question: why didn’t the mammoth regulatory legislation of 2010 stop Chase’s dangerous practice? Levin could only bleat on about how very illegal it was, by which he reveals the weakness of the entire enterprise. JPMorgan is so huge and so powerful that it can now engage in illegal behavior with impunity. Prosecutions could follow and even hurt. But that won’t mean much if the next disaster wrecks the financial system—again.

Bank reform should have started with the break-up of these bank behemoths into manageable parts susceptible to supervision and vigilance. Instead, they’ve been allowed to metastasize into ever larger and more dangerous cancers. Many voices have predicted that the conditions are now set for an even deadlier collapse. If so, this week’s shake-up is only a foretaste.

What, me worry?

You don’t have to be versed in financial arcana to understand what happened at JPMorgan Chase last week: one of the TBTF (Too Big To Fail) banks, still somehow permitted to keep a room at the Bellagio after having lost the house, the car and baby’s shoes at the craps table in 2008, went ahead and dropped another $2 billion in roulette. The latest update is that it’s probably going to be at least $3 billion.

This was just days after Jamie Dimon, the arrogant prick who heads the bank, had told everyone to go to hell because they’re stupid and he’s smart. Banks should NOT be supervised while gambling with other people’s money, he snorted indignantly, because we know exactly what we’re doing.

Now the difficult question for Mr Dimon is, Were you lying or simply clueless about what was happening under your nose?

We should not expect anything much to come of this—although some pieces of the Dodd-Frank rules could survive as a result of the massive screw-up. But the Greek debacle has shown how far things have to deteriorate before people react against the traditional elites who have led them to mass suicide. No doubt the Romney and Obama camps both are furiously negotiating at this moment to see who can offer Dimon the best escape from his world-class embarrassment so that the campaign dollars can continue to flow.

Meanwhile, although the alternative represented by the Occupy movement is still in onesies, there are bright spots: Occupy the SEC, comprised of finance professionals who can go toe-to-toe on the technical details, alerted regulators to exactly the loophole exploited by Dimon, to his current, temporary chagrin. Isn’t it lovely that people painted as scruffy deadbeats in plastic tents turned out to know more than hundreds of corrupted legislators?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

HIV pill can stop new infections

HIV prevention got a boost from the FDA this week when an advisory panel recommended that doctors be allowed to prescribe an anti-retroviral medicine to prevent the initial infection. A study that came out last year showed that Truvada was partially effective in stopping new infections if taken regularly, which was quite a revelation given that the drug was developed to prevent viral replication in people who already have HIV.

The NY Times article outlining the Truvada story was pretty accurate, but it’s amazing after all these decades that its editors still fling around the discredited terminology and concepts of the epidemic’s early years. The front-page story spoke of the drug’s utility for ‘high risk people, like prostitutes’ while just a few lines before, reporter Denise Grady had written of ‘people at high risk of infection, like gay men who have multiple sex partners’.

It’s understandable that the Times wouldn’t call women in the sex trade ‘sex workers’ as many of them like to call themselves. But how about something a little more neutral, like ‘women in the sex trade’? And BTW, Miss Grady, behaviors, not people, are ‘high risk’, just as you seem to have grasped when describing gay men. But gay men, even the randier ones, are legal now, and their relationships are endorsed by the state—‘prostitutes’ are still high-risk ho’s.

The Truvada decision is a bit of a no-brainer given that people in sero-discordant relationships (one partner HIV-positive, the other not) are likely to want the option of medicinal pre-exposure prophylaxis (‘PreP’, for short) to use along with the other precautions available to reduce their worries during a lifetime of intimacy. Given the costs, it’s not a strategy that will make sense for many people, but it will work for some. Nonetheless, a vocal minority raised all kinds of cain about the supposed disinhibiting effect of making Truvada available because, they argued, people will be less committed to condom use.

Hello? Condoms are not being left on the nightstand now? There is a vast amount of unprotected sex taking place and always has been, even among the most vulnerable population groups. With 50 thousand new infections per year in the U.S., nearly half of them minority gay men, anything that works is a welcome addition to the toolkit. Biomedical solutions like PreP are no magic bullet because any method, just like condoms themselves, only works if you use it correctly. But it’s another tiny step.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Bully-boy nation

In Fukushima, children who refused to drink the [contaminated] milk in their school lunches were called to the front of their classes and humiliated by their teachers. ‘They were treated like traitors during the war’, a woman said in a video clip—she was telling the story to [the Japanese prime minister] who chuckled in response.
--Rebecca Solnit, Diary, London Review of Books, 10 May 2012

Looks like chuckling over the humiliation of children is all the rage. Romney’s chuckling (and lying) response to the revelation of his prep school forced hair-cutting incident (the one he ‘doesn’t remember’ while also oddly certain that the kid he can’t recall wasn’t openly gay) is as smarmy as could be expected. But I’m puzzled that anyone is puzzled, either by his behavior or his response to it. Since when have we decided that the weak and powerless should get a break?

Today, ours is a country in which thousands of people will pour into the streets to demand that the state NOT provide them with health care, apparently for fear that some undeserving loser across town will benefit from it (especially an undeserving non-white loser). Ever since the Reaganite triumph of 1980, our guiding principle has been the celebration of greatness of the top, be it the country at the top (ours), the guy at the top (Reagan), or the people at the top (the rich). The famous Santelli rant that is credited with sparking the Tea Party was precisely that: don’t tell me that suffering homeowners should get a break because I don’t give a shit about them, and neither should you.

Unfortunately, the Obama camp represents merely a buffered version of the same mentality as best exemplified by his ‘Race to the Top’ program for the nation’s education system, which explicitly states in its own name that only a few will or should make it. The unspoken corollary is that the rest can piss off up a rope. Not surprisingly, this campaign is accompanied by a full-frontal assault on public education, whose mission is precisely the opposite, to raise all boats through attention to the level of the sea.

Bullying Mitt Romney-style, along with gay bashing, rape, police abuse, macho fisticuffs and war, are all expressions of the bipedal fascination with dominating and crushing one’s fellow species members. This behavior has rather an ancient tradition, and it isn’t likely to be seriously discredited as long as our flawed race does not actively expose, denounce and condemn it. But when bullying is a culture’s operative philosophy, there isn’t much hope for reining it in.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Obama ‘evolves’

It’s great that Obama finally got his Darwinian groove on and realized that the legal case for allowing people to marry whomever they want [photo: Newsweek] is overwhelming for those of us who believe in the secular state. The bulk of the Democratic Party establishment and a good portion of the country as a whole have come around on same-sex marriage with rather stunning speed, despite yesterday’s heel-digging in North Carolina. (If they had voted on letting black and white people get married 30 years ago, that would have lost, too.)

Nonetheless, and at the risk of seeing a half-empty glass, I can’t help but recall the 2008 vice presidential debate in which Joe Biden and Sarah Palin quickly confirmed that they were in full agreement—that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples—and then dropped the subject as if it were a live hand grenade. Biden didn’t even take the opportunity to endorse civil unions or allude to the rampant discrimination gay and lesbian couples and individuals face every day.

The fact that absolutely nothing achieved by the movement for sexual emancipation was a gift is hardly news. But it’s a tribute to the skill, professionalism and focus—not to mention the money—of the LGBT organizations that marriage equality is suddenly a reality for many young couples today, a state of affairs that would have been unthinkable even during the Clinton years. (Remember him? the guy who gladly signed the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act to preserve his ‘centrist’ credentials and yet remains a hero to many girlfriends with short memories?)

In addition, the acceptance of new family forms is the result of the courageous decisions of millions of men and women to be who they are and to live it openly, to show their friends and relatives the easy normalcy that they knew and understood in their parallel lives by making them public. Pretending not to be gay has always been a survival mechanism for many of us in many circumstances, but emancipation needed people who would shed the ambiguities and leave the protective, gray-shaded wraps at the closet door.

No one can accuse me of excessive optimism in these demented times, but I have a strange feeling of insouciant confidence on this topic. I see the bipedal race, which I disdain for its many unlovely qualities, incapable of stifling the vast variety at its heart. There are too many people who know their own truth and, emboldened by their peers, see no reason not to bring it forth. That genie is unlikely to be put back in the bottle, regardless of the reigning prejudices in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount.

Monday, 7 May 2012

What gives in Europe? [updated]

There are conflicting narratives about the weekend elections in Greece and France, one of which enjoys mainstream pundit consensus and thus dominance: austerity is here to stay, so get used to it. there is NO ALTERNATIVE. Europe lived beyond its means for decades, provided its citizens a comfy social safety net, six weeks of vacations, tons of free things, cushy health care and pensions, and now the bill for all that overspending has come due. Vote for whomever you like, but the Market Gods will determine your margin of maneuver. Socialist, neo-liberal, far-right-winger or social democrat, it’s all the same because banks, not voters, now decide policy.

The alternative view, pushed by the incoming president of France, Francois Hollande, is that the slash-and-burn approach is not enough and that austerity must be tempered with economic stimulus and job creation.

What often gets lost in the bobbing-heads news coverage we’re subjected to is that the austerity program shoved down the collective European throat for two years running is an abject failure. The cuts have driven the continent back into recession, further undermining government finances and worsening the debt crisis that the cuts themselves were supposed to solve. It’s the logic of debtors’ prison: when a guy can’t make his payments, you put him in jail so he stops earning entirely.

I’ve yet to see any of the smug commentators promoting this approach explain how it will work. Instead, they talk in terms of moral probity, that the excesses and luxuries of the social net were not paid for, that countries are like households, that one must earn in order to spend, etc.

Another common trope is the constant trashing of Argentina for daring to go its own way, defying the international bank consortium, abolishing dollar parity and repudiating its unpayable debt rather than accept more decades of financial peonage. That was supposed to turn the entire populace into beggars and send Argentina back to colonial penury. Instead, the country has racked up impressive growth figures for a decade. On the rare occasion this counter-example is raised, it’s (falsely) attributed to dumb luck and high agricultural prices.

The Greeks may well fit the description of the profligate state with too-plump chickens now coming home to roost. But the ‘assistance’ being provided by the European masters was never designed to rescue the country’s wrecked economy or its destitute citizens but instead to recycle the foolishly-borrowed cash back to the teetering German and French and British banks who foolishly lent it. Without a balancing dose of stimulus, the Greeks are condemned to euro-occupation by the hated northerners into the foreseeable future, and so no wonder anti-Teutonic stereotypes have resurfaced there—along with some real-live, albeit home-grown nazis.

There Is No Alternative, intone the European architects of the current mess, and yet those who are being invited to not work, not to eat and not to have anywhere to live seem to have a different idea. With the opposing sides digging in and scary extremist tendencies growing stronger day by day, it’s hard to glimpse an outcome that does not include a blow-up of some sort.

[update] Bill Black, a former savings & loan regulator, adds in a Naked Capitalism post this essential detail of the push for austerity:

Germany and the ECB are open that they are not simply demanding austerity and massive privatization – they are also demanding dramatic reductions in working class wages throughout the EU. The German’s and the ECB are not demanding any sacrifices from European elites. They explicitly target the working class and government workers’ wages and oppose any increased taxation of the wealthy.

So the ever-so-essential cuts must only come from those at the bottom, never the financial engineers themselves. How appropriate that class war is back with a German-inflected vengeance!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Guantámano ‘trials’

The outcomes of the military commissions being held at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo are pre- determined as is the winner—Osama bin Laden. His scheme was to provoke the collapse of western democracy, and he has been fabulously successful so far due to what soccer players know as an ‘own goal’. Thanks to the collective response to his act of murder, our existence as a nation of laws is now in serious peril.

Obama promised two days after his inauguration to close down our 21st century Devil’s Island, and he could have done it then or for at least a year afterward. He would have taken a lot of flak, but just imagine how compelling a case he could have made for adhering to the rule of law, come what may. If you take a strong, principled position, even people who loathe you and hate your idea will respect you.

Instead, Obama collapsed in the face of criticism, and the crazies hate him more than ever. He put off the decision and allowed his opponents time to raise hell and pass a series of restrictive laws. In that first period he could have simply brought the prisoners to the mainland, put them on trial and told the people flailing their arms hysterically to get a grip because we use courts and legal procedures here, like it or not. Even later, Obama could have vetoed the congressional interference, but he didn’t.

Obama even undercut his own lapdog Attorney General by allowing local authorities to overrule the attempt to bring Guantánamo detainees to trial in federal courts, a rather shocking cave-in to the states. (By contrast, any state that wanted to pursue criminal charges against corrupt banksters was quickly brought to heel by Obama’s federally-empowered finance czars.)

The November election is now set between two candidates who are committed to the executive’s power to indefinitely imprison detainees based on a phony theory of permanent war (against ‘terrorism’). Obama could have carved out a different stance, and if he had, there would be a dissident constituency left behind even if he lost. Citizens who have been watching Law & Order and police shows for decades could have been challenged to understand that this time, above all others, we had to stick to our time-honored guarantees of due process in courts with judges, adversary attorneys, evidence and juries. A lot of people would have agreed, and the rest would have faced a powerful set of arguments.

Instead, we have bipartisan consensus that habeas corpus is inconvenient. This is the disastrous outcome that bin Laden tricked us into inflicting upon ourselves.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Throwing away the key from Abu Ghraib to San Diego

With the steady shredding of our remaining protections against arbitrary actions by agents of the state, no one can be too shocked at the behavior of the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Daniel Chong case. The DEA seized Chong during a raid on a home where illicit drugs were allegedly in use and put him in a windowless, toilet-less holding cell, but then forgot he was in there. The 23-year-old college student was without food or water for five days and almost died.

Not that the DEA meant to force Chong to drink his own urine and attempt suicide, but the first statement issued by the San Diego office’s spokeswoman, Amy Roderick, tells us something about the mindset at work in the brave new Security State that Bush and Obama have arranged for us. Roderick’s early comments are hard to find on the Internet now, meaning that the rolling PR disaster was quickly perceived up the food chain by someone with a working brain. But when news of the abuse first broke, Roderick immediately went into Keep Us Safe mode by referring to Chong’s guilt, saying the arrest occurred because Chong ‘was at the house, by his own admission, to get high with his friends’.

So there we have it: if you are doing Bad Things, anything goes. Corollary: a detainee’s guilt and thus treatment will be determined by the arresting police agent. What better summary of the Abu Ghraib/Guantánamo spirit to which our society is acclimating itself? If we DEA/ Homeland Security/ Anybody Else agents determine that you are a criminal or a terrorist, tough titties to everything that happens after that.

The new official line is that the DEA is very, very sorry—no, like really, really sorry—about what happened, erm, hmmm, [cough], ‘rare occurrence’, [mumble], ‘does not reflect DEA values’, [throat clearing], ‘will be investigated promptly’, etc., etc. The so-sorry part I can totally believe given that the lawsuit Chong’s lawyer is now typing up carries a price tag of $12 million. If I were sitting on that jury, I’d add a zero to it before the lawyers have stood up for opening arguments.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

May 1 -- All is not bleak

Without ignoring the thesis of this blog, that of the accelerating demise of the biped race, May 1st does seem to me a good moment to pause and consider any bright-ish signs peeking over the horizon, even if it requires a squint. Despite all, I find a number of encouraging developments.

Lest my friends become alarmed at any decadent optimism, let’s begin with a perverse celebration of the complete freak-out of the Republican-Murdochian-Teabaggarian reactionary camp. Their rhetoric and behavior is increasingly shocking even to their supposed peers, and they continue to move the goalposts of their own sanity. The messianic tone of their crusades and pronouncements indicates atrophy of their strategic faculties, and this is encouraging. Denouncing birth control, for example, already has generated a backlash among women like Sandra Flake and could even shift the centerpiece of the social issues war from abortion to gender equality—which is what it was about all along. If we were Egypt or Yemen, appealing to medieval views of women’s role might be a winning platform. In Oregon and Florida, not so much.

Similarly, I think it’s just great that the Romney campaign has been forced to bounce its openly gay staffer, and no doubt some people will think that’s just terrible of me to say. Too bad, queens who work against their own and others’ interests in the wacko Christian camp can piss off up a rope—I have no sympathy for them and hereby proclaim they should go get honest jobs.

Speaking of glee over other people’s bad luck, let’s have three cheers for the imminent defeat of crusty old Richard Lugar of Indiana at the hands of his own inflamed, nasty constituents. I covered Capitol Hill in the 1970s and ’80s when another so-called Republican ‘moderate’, Charles Percy of next-door Illinois, was a leading member and considered Very Serious by all the chin-stroking pundit crowd. I remember personally pursuing him for a comment about the peasants of El Salvador who were being rounded up and tortured by Ron Reagan’s favorite death squads. Needless to say, I got nowhere; he dismissed my questions with disdain, and his staffers told me to get lost. Business of State was being attended to—we need not hear irrelevant stories of commie-symp tortilla-eaters in an obscure backwater. So much for the marvy moderates. Apparently, Lugar had an independent streak, but his party doesn’t want to hear about it. He and his colleagues might have seen that tendency coming instead of pumping up their worst tendencies for short-term gain.

Another happy thought: Occupy is back! I couldn’t take the ‘general strike’ nonsense seriously, but it’s wonderful to see people marching against the 1%ers again, especially since greed is back and thriving like never before. It will be interesting to see if the movement is boxed into a dead-end, pro-Obama mode as certain forces would like. My sign—which I may yet paint and carry—will read “Democrats: Corrupt. Republicans: Corrupt and INSANE”.

ALEC’s troubled sleep: Color of Change and other Internet mobilizers have done a nice job exposing the evil minds at the American Legislative Exchange Council behind the Stand Your Ground law that contributed mightily to the death of Trayvon Martin. Now, that stealth-corporate shadow legislature dominating many state legislatures has been exposed to the uncomfortable glare of publicity. It will still be around but no longer as a closet lobbyist leaving no fingerprints. Good.

And the Trayvon Martin case itself is another positive development. His killer may still get off, but the facts are likely to come out at long last. It’s a sad commentary that it took a massive, national publicity campaign to get a homicide charge after a homicide, but hey, we’ll take it.

Finally, there is wonderful news of enormous potential import coming from merry old England, where the gargoyle Murdoch has just been declared a ‘person unfit’ to lead a major corporation. This is devastating and could have a ripple effect on his U.S. media empire, including the poison-spewing Fox. Could we be turning a corner on bile?