Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cannibal cop and criminal fantasy

What is wrong with this picture? Detectives busted fellow cop Gilberto Valle a few months ago for planning to kidnap, torture and roast a number of women including his own wife prior to consuming them. The trial is underway now, and while the seized online messages Valle wrote are beyond gross, his lawyers are saying, Where’s the evidence of a crime? What concrete actions did he take in furtherance of his scheme that would take this out of the realm of private speech?

No one has asked, as far as I can tell, what seems an obvious question: why did the cops not engage with Valle and get him to take an active step so that they could demonstrate intent? After all, that’s exactly what they do with terrorist suspects whom the FBI frequently encourages, conspires with and provides aid to so that the bomb or assassination or whatever plots can go forward. Then they record everything, bust the moron, and slap a 40-year sentence on him.

How hard would it have been to enter the cannibal-porn Web sites, engage with Valle and offer to help? How long would it have taken them to snare the guy in even a single, simple action, like agreeing to meet on a park bench to discuss the plans further or buying some equipment for the crime? Given the heinous nature of these plans and the thousands of participants on the disturbing sites, why not do the public a service by nailing this creep and warning off others?

Here’s the New York magazine blog citing other news reports on testimony about the police procedures:

Baum [Valle’s lawyer] asked the agent if Valle actually owned items discussed in the chats, like an oversized suitcase for transporting his victims, a secluded house upstate, or a rope-and-pulley system in his basement. The answer to each question was no. Baum also noted that the FBI didn’t conduct surveillance on Valle in the weeks after his wife contacted the agency, and they never checked his trunk for DNA, though he’d talked about putting a body in the trunk of his car.

No surveillance? Are we kidding? So reassuring for the woman trying to avoid becoming this guy’s lunch.

Jury service in this case would be particularly difficult if one is at all concerned about tossing people in prison for the crime of saying things, despicable as they may be. If our bloated police agencies are so monomaniacal that they can’t figure out how to apply their techniques to real social threats, WTF good are they?

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Left? Right? Something else?

How can the results of this weekend’s parliamentary election in Italy fit into the left/right spectrum bequeathed to us from the French Revolution? The post-communist ‘leftist’ leader, Bersani, promised to keep wearing the Eurocrats’ austerity hairshirt while the ‘right-wing’ Bunga-Bunga man [above left] promised to defy them. Where then stands Bepe Grillo [above right], the novice comedian-turned pol, who said a pox on all known houses and their inhabitants and swept 25%?

But then again, what does any of it matter given that Italy’s voting papers weren’t even stacked in neat piles when the German paymasters promptly said that the beatings will continue until morale improves along with the Italian national debt. Except that it won’t because the austerity program has been shown to fail spectacularly by every conceivable measure with the sole exception of whether or not it has protected bank assets, bank managers and bank bondholders. (It has.)

The coverage reported in the European press at the Italians’ unthinkable refusal to bow down to the banker gods would be hilarious if it weren’t so deadly. All the mainstream wank-meisters are chorusing in remarkable unison about the irresponsibility, immaturity, populist self-indulgence and lazy-ass freeloading reflected in the vote for the anti-austerity Berlusconi and the neophyte Grillo. They twit Italians for refusing to face ‘reality’, and promptly insist that the empiricially-tested massive failure known as austerity must be continued indefinitely. No doubt they are boosted in these fantasies by Obama’s adoption of the GOP austerity pitch over here, despite the kabuki theatre now taking place and masking their underlying agreement to dismantle the safety net.

The difference between this electoral revolt and the one that occurred in Greece a few months back is that Italy is a much larger player and cannot be so easily intimidated. While threats to leave the Eurozone would be no big deal coming from Athens or Lisbon or even Madrid, Rome is different. It has a large enough economy and small enough overall debt load that it could plausibly wriggle out of the austerity straitjacket and the Eurozone itself and do all right in the long run, notwithstanding some immediate suffering. But we should not underestimate people’s willingness to sacrifice when they feel that the end result will be greater and more widely distributed fairness, including punishment of the guilty, i.e., the banks that orchestrated the current devastation.

Grillo is a peculiar case, but his success shows that something is afoot that the Usual Suspects cannot control. His highly personalized movement’s program is stuffed with attacks against the ‘political class’ as if ‘politics’ could be avoided entirely (military dictatorships like that line, too), and the proposed solutions like term limits are pointless—what, the next crop won’t slip into the same vices? But at the same time he has a point, and it clearly resonates with citizens: the professional pols who have run Italy since forever in living memory are a morally and now financially bankrupt cult.

The same could be said for virtually all ruling factions throughout Europe since everyone is shackled to the austerity wheel by the French and German banks whose refusal to take any hit for what they cooked up underlies the ongoing deterioration of the lives of the continent’s people. Eventually, a lot of them are going to say they’ve had enough and demand a new course, and Italy may be the epicenter of this inevitable denouement. The Euro-elites may put the genie back in the bottle again for a while, but it will never be permanent.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Is the Vatican preparing a gay purge?

Things are happening at warp speed over in Rome where history is usually measured in centuries. But the startling developments of the last few weeks seem to be just the beginning.

First, we had the Pope himself calling it quits in a nearly unprecedented pre-death retirement. Then today, the top cardinal of Great Britain followed suit after being hit with sexual harassment claims by a group of former seminarians.

And in between there was the curious and somewhat flimsily sourced report in the Italian papers about a secret report on pervasive sex-and-corruption ring within the Curia that has to be rooted out.

So the question is, Will it be?

Not, Does it exist? because the burden of disproof is on those fellows. Convince us that it doesn’t.

The ultimate in forbidden fruit—sex among the celibate—has to be awfully tempting, especially if you can get away with it consistently. We’ve all known sexually active priests, including many gay ones, and though it seemed like an odd life choice, one could exercise a certain degree of tolerance toward individuals despite the relentless, deadly hostility from outfit they served.

But the pedophile scandals have pushed the hierarchy in all sorts of twisted directions, including trotting out the truly unspeakable line that modern tolerance for homosexuality caused the pedophilia outbreak, thereby resuscitating that old libel that gay men are all kiddie-diddlers at heart. No, that’s what you guys are.

However, the gathering storms may lead to a most interesting denouement. What if there really is a gay mafia inside the CC world built on emotional or erotic ties and access to worldly goods (of which they have plenty)? What if Benedict sees it as the enemy of the church’s future, an inner rot that needs to be pruned away like so many liberation theologians?

Getting O’Brien and possibly Mahoney of Los Angeles to stand down just before a papal election is pretty rough play. And among the discussed candidates, there are several cardinals like those of Canada and Ghana who uphold a ferociously homophobic line. Might Vatican circles be leaning towards one of them, not so much to do more damage to the world lay movement for sexual emancipation but to clean its own house?

If so, it might not be entirely a bad thing though accompanied by all sorts of nasty rhetoric. Getting an unhealthy retinue of closet gay homophobes out of the way, even at the cost of reinforcing ancient prejudices, paradoxically might enable the retrograde center of world Catholicism to face the modern world more coherently, unburdened by the cognitive dissonance of condemning loudly in public what one indulges privately. And it might even, in the process, enable them to figure out that being gay has nothing to do with abusing defenseless minors who have been taught to trust you.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Budget hijacking

‘Sequester’ carries the echo of the latinate words for ‘kidnapping’ (secuestro in Spanish), which is a pretty accurate description of where the wacko brigades are leading our national polity these days. Sadly, I don’t see Barack O as much of an action hero capable of elbowing the guns out of their hands and saving the innocent maidens.

It’s actually kind of funny that Mr Reasonable is suddenly discovering that his let-us-now-hold-hands-and-sing approach to these goons is going nowhere. As Mike Davies points out in an interesting New Left Review summary, the extremist wing of the GOP is not only geographically concentrated in the old Confederacy and a few patches of the Great Empty (Kansas, Idaho, etc.), its attitude is highly reminiscent of the ‘massive resistance’ era of die-hard segregationists in the 1950s and ’60s.

In vehemence and intent, . . . the Tea Party reincarnates much of the bigotry and intransigence of the White Citizens’ Councils, albeit with the moral salves of a few reactionary black celebrities. . . when governors and legislators in coordination with congressional delegations defied all the rules of coalition-building, compromise and obedience to the Washington establishment in order to wage all-out war against black political empowerment.

That’s a good insight into why Obama’s search for common ground with these people was a fantasy. But it raises the question of what would have been a reasonable or workable strategy and, more to the point, what can be done about them now?

I don’t pretend to know, but confronting reality is always a good starting point. It now looks as though the ‘sequester’, i.e., the announced attempt to cripple all governmental functions so that our elected government will be intimidated into retreating from the positions we voted for, is going to happen. Unless President O or someone is willing to deploy some serious hardball countermeasures—like maybe cancelling a couple big Pentagon procurement contracts in certain strategically located defense plants?—they will get more and more of what they want.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Yes for "No"

The Oscar-nominated Chilean film ‘No’, an entertainingly accurate history lesson, deserves a wider audience than it will ever get. (When I saw it locally, the cinema was barely a third full compared to the ongoing crowds jamming into the far more disturbing ‘Amour’.) It reconstructs the creative and decision-making process behind the political publicity created for the “No’ campaign in 1988 when Pinochet ran for president by himself and came in second.

That’s not an original gag—it was the headline in one of the opposition papers the next day. Ex post spoiler alert! He lost.

But that fact is not the interesting part of the history or the movie, which skillfully illuminates the debates that took place inside the pro-democracy camp populated by former exiles and victims of the regime’s ferocity. We see the impossible contradiction between the gravity of the issues being decided and the frivolity of the message-making machine, and it’s both gripping and exasperating. The only surprise at how opposition to dictatorship is eventually trotted out onto the TV screen complete with a snappy ‘I love democracy’ jingle and a bunch of corny accoutrements is that it doesn’t surprise us in the least. Nor does the fact that it works great. We are so used to being sold political messages in exactly this way that it all looks completely normal.

The missing link for foreigners seeing the film is any sense of how breathtakingly radical the 15-minute ‘No’ segments were for a Chilean audience that had not witnessed the tiniest hint of political dissidence on its television screens in many years. When those programs came on for the first time, the streets emptied out, and phones stopped ringing while virtually every living soul in the country sat by in stunned silence. And what they saw was just enough to help them overcome their multiple fears.

The ‘vote No’ ad campaign was so light and breezy, so familiar and digestible like the product promotions Chileans had got used to over the years of commercial modernizing, that the sympathetic populace, already hungry for change, was encouraged to take the chance. (This does not include the solid base of support that Pinochet enjoyed among the more prosperous types and a sizable sector of the lower classes as well.) Average, skeptical Chileans did not see any signs in the pro-democracy advertising of the difficult Allende years, which for them meant a return to the bread lines, polarization and instability. And many, though far from all, overcame their fears of reprisals if their ‘No’ votes were somehow spied upon and known to the authorities.

Overt denunciations of the military regime were carefully limited by the advertising execs such as the one portrayed by Gael García Bernal so that viewers could be reassured by the optimistic and welcoming tone of the images and comments, anchored by the avuncular Patricio Bañados (who appears as himself side by side with 1988 clips). Nonetheless, the cheery and frequently comic framework allowed the 15-minute segments to incorporate moments of seriousness such as the ‘Widow’s Dance’ by wives of the disappeared and dramatic revelations about the extent of torture within the political prisons, all common knowledge among us reporters but easily concealed to the rest of the country.

Director Pablo Larraín has come in for some criticism for his treatment of these events, but I can’t see how any serious observer could take issue with his choices, which leave very little out, from the over-confident pinochetistas to the scornful, serious types like the Bernal character’s ex-wife. Bernal himself plays a largely apolitical cypher, who returns after the excitement of the ‘No’ campaign to the mundane chore of peddling soft drinks and washing machines—much as Chile has done once the dictatorship was history as part of its embrace of the neoliberal (and very much post-Pinochet) modernization dream.

The only other gap I noticed was the incomplete picture of the role of foreign governments and the foreign press, of which I formed a part. The regime’s minions and media mouthpieces constantly harped on the nefarious desires of non-Chileans to oust Pinochet, and it was quite dangerous to appear with media credentials at their events, at the sight of which regime-worshipping old ladies would turn into screaming banshees.

But the desire to engineer a negotiated transition was very strong amid the Chilean business and political elites as well, including the pro-Pinochet elements, because they knew that strict adherence to the 1981 constitution, written under the dictatorship’s guidance, was their best ticket to continued dominance. That’s why the ‘No’ was allowed to triumph and Pinochet very, very slowly squeezed out, as illustrated by the news clip of Air Force General Matthei conceding defeat while Pinochet cooked up a way to wreck the vote count. It was a great day and also ensured that the transition would succeed—but within carefully defined limits.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Talking back - part 4

Lie #25:
We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; . . .

False. Being connected to the global economy can be just as damaging as not being—it depends who’s doing the connecting and to what end. We learned that ourselves in the, um, 18th century [hint: American Revolution], and it’s still true. Facile endorsement of globalization as the solution to poverty is self-serving cant.

Rosy prediction #33:
. . . by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

All very nice, and we’ll get the money to do these noble things how? Given that you’ve endorsed the austerity Weltanshauung, and your bipartisan partners want to drown gummint in the bathtub?

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.

By continuing to utilize our 50-country-wide dragnet of secret prisons and torture sites.

Disturbing truth #52:
I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, ‘There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that’.

I do too!

Lie #27/Whopper #9:
In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, . . .

Except for those people who have no rights at all because they are not citizens of anywhere because, see, Israel has the right to exist, but they don’t.

Lie #28:
. . . and support stable transitions to democracy.

Except in Bahrain because we have important military bases there, so it doesn’t count. What are friends for if you can’t overlook their imperfections?

Lie #29:
The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people.

Except for the exceptions [see above].

Disturbing truth #53:
We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.
To a country that has successfully used war for five decades to conquer new territory and displace the residents. Yes, a chauvinist settler state sounds like a very promising place to discuss ‘lasting peace’.

Disturbing truth #54:
All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, . . .

And insist on maintaining their special status as extra-territorial agents beyond the reach of local criminal law.

Disturbing truth #55:
. . . and we will maintain the best military in the world.

Or at least the largest.

Rosy prediction #34:
We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.

Rosy prediction #35:
We will ensure equal treatment for all service members,

Unless they possess a vagina, which we have not yet figured out how to protect from foreign invasions.

Rosy predictions #36:
. . . and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.

Which we can only do by eliminating them for others [see sections #1, #2, and #3]. No new spending!

Disturbing truth #56:
But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.

Uh-oh, God-given? I thought our rights came from the Constitution.

Rosy prediction #37:
That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.

‘Improve the voting experience’? Not ‘remove the obstacles’ someone placed there?

Rosy prediction #38:
And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.

Ergo, a guy from the party that cooked up all the obstacles in the first place, which we will pretend were unintentional.

Rosy prediction #39:
We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

‘Fix’ implies a technical glitch rather than the obvious intent. You don’t ‘fix’ a poll tax or a lynch mob—you ‘stop’ them.

Disturbing truth #57/Rosy prediction #40:
Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children. It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around common sense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.

Bipartisanship should solve this one.

Rosy prediction #41:
Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Yeah, more police firepower, that’s what we need!

Disturbing truth #58:
Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.

Which they might not get because I buckled on filibuster reform.

Disturbing truths #59-64:
Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

Along with all those who can’t be added to this list because if they were, we’d be here until 4 a.m.

Disturbing truth #65:
Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.

However, this does not apply to terrorism, which we must stamp out utterly and completely before they occur by dismantling the Bill of Rights, torturing people and getting the FBI to cook up plots before anyone else can think of them.

Unnumbered rhetorical flights about our unique, special character as persons born and raised in the USA:
But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted’.

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, ‘That’s just the way we’re made’.

That's just the way we’re made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: . . .

Disturbing truth #66/Rhetorical claptrap coda:
We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

Yes, citizenship is an important quality. You had the best chance in a half-century to deepen and defend it. Telling us we’re special is not a substitute.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Talking back - part 3

[continuation of annotated SOTU]

Lie #16:
These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.

No, none of it will matter if vast incentives remain in place to ship the jobs elsewhere and juicy new benefits to outsourcing are added through “free-trade” agreements designed to place U.S. workers in direct competition with slaves, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal now being cooked up. [See below.]

Disturbing truth #29:
And that [training] has to start at the earliest possible age. Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.

Thanks to the blocking of the Mondale initiative for federally subsidized preschool that was vetoed by Nixon 40 years ago as part of the culture wars. Wars, BTW, which have gotten 100 times worse and are led by the rabid assholes now sitting in front of you and ready to gin up their ‘gummint threatens the Christian family!’ meme as soon as this speech is over.

Disturbing truth #30:
Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.

In fact, many formerly middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for anything because they have no income at all. But deficit-slashing in the midst of a weak recovery should fix everything!

Disturbing truth #31:
And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.

Get that, religious nutbags in Oklahoma? “Stable families,” “hold a job,” see, we’re not talking welfare queens here, my Christian brothers, this is the way to get THOSE people (wink-wink) out there and to function and stop being deadbeats.

Rosy prediction #19:
So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Yes, let’s use empirical evidence on preschool education even though our entire educational policy is based on privatization and teacher-punishment (see below), which has NO empirical basis.

Rosy prediction #20:
Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.

Which will magically appear once people are well educated and trained, just like in Greece and Portugal where well educated youth are eagerly awaiting the next round of budget balancing/austerity, which I have legitimized conceptually in this speech, to help their countries blossom and flourish.

Disturbing truth #32:
Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering. We need to give every American student opportunities like this.

Yes, that’s what we need, IBM deciding how to organize every kid’s education given that the problems facing public schools are basically managerial and can be solved by good corporate practice; therefore, they need to be taken over by the private sector. Oh, and IBM doesn’t bother about silly old unions, either. This all worked out really well in Chile under Pinochet, so we should reshape our educational industry this way despite the lack of empirical evidence in its favor [see above]. After all, it’s a $500 billion income stream just sitting there waiting to be tapped by the banks, which might get them off life support eventually.

Disturbing truth #33:
Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.T

A program whose very name indicates that some will make it and some will sink to The Bottom, but that’s capitalism fer ya! Life isn’t fair, and not everyone is fleet of foot!

Disturbing truth #34:
Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

That way, we can directly funnel children according to early classification as Alphas, Gammas and Deltas into their assigned roles in production without wasting a lot of expensive time in useless topics like history and flute-playing. Hey, ‘partnerships with employers’ even sounds kinda like how things work here at the White House! That should definitely work.

Rosy prediction #21:
Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.

That is, if there is a middle class once the multinationals and the Chinese Politburo get finished with it.

Rosy prediction #22:
But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt. Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new ‘College Scorecard’ that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Sorta like those teacher evaluation scorecards are really popular and are working out well from coast to coast--without cheating!

Disturbing truth #35:
To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

‘Willing to work’ = GOP shibboleth/red meat to Red Staters. Would this be the time to introduce the concept of unions into your address given their huge role in electing you to office twice?

Rosy prediction #23:
Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

There! I mentioned labor although not ‘unions.’ Picky, picky, picky. What do you commies want from me, anyway?

Disturbing truth #36:
Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

And deported many more hundreds of thousands of people than George Bush did.

Lie #16:
Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

Real reform will not include forcing people back to their countries of origin to get in endless lines for a decade because they won’t do it.

Disturbing truth #37/Rosy prediction #24/Lie #17:
And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

The ‘legal immigration system’ that has been mobilized since at last 2001 to treat illegals as the enemy? ‘Reduce bureaucracy’, good luck with that; ‘attract engineers’, oh really? Like the 11 million menial workers who make up the bulk of the undocumented population? Are you saying they should stay or get forced out? Or are we going to discuss that later?

Rosy prediction #25:
In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

So give me the chance to help the GOP to repair the damage they did themselves with Hispanics so it can win future elections and maintain our noble tradition of bipartisanship. Yay!

Rosy prediction #26:
But we can’t stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

This is very likely to happen! John Boehner undoubtedly will risk political capital with vaginal wand purveyors to get it passed.

Disturbing truth #38:
We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages.

Especially for those engaged in ‘hard’ honest work.

Disturbing truth #39:
But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Which is particularly important given that well-paying manufacturing jobs are no longer part of the mix since global competition with Chinese slaves makes them unnecessary.

Rosy prediction #27:
Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Surely you’ll agree in a bipartisan spirit that these struggling fellow citizens should be succored!

Disturbing truth #40:
Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

This is sounding great, recognition of Rust Belt devastation, need for structural change. Where is this going? [breathless anticipation]

Rosy prediction #28:
Let’s offer incentives to companies . . .

Yes, that’s what was missing, incentives to companies! Bipartisan agreement sure to follow.

Rosy prediction #28 (cont.):
. . . that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.

In non-union states! And all without a penny of ‘new’ spending, remember? We’ll get the cash from Grandma’s pension.

Disturbing truth #41:
And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.

Wink, wink, see, I’m not favoring those deadbeat Negroes who have illegitimate children and then want welfare checks!

Rosy prediction #29:
Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Who writes this treacle?

Lie #17:
Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us.

Define ‘protect’. Invading Iraq protected us how exactly?

Lie #18:
Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.

That was completed 12 years ago. The announced mission of stabilizing Afghanistan permanently has been an abject failure, extended for four additional and useless years by you.

Disturbing truth #42:
Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

When it could have been over in 2002 with the same or even better results.

Disturbing truth #43:
Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates. Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.

Why this was not done a decade ago at a savings of $1 trillion will not be discussed for now.

Disturbing truth #44:
Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving.

Given our excellent record in winning the hearts of minds of the world’s peoples through drone assassination and imperial invasions.

Disturbing truth #45:
But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.

It only took us ten years of failed tactics and $3 trillion to realize we had to do things differently. Hey, learning curve!

Disturbing truth #46:
And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

And man, do I love ‘direct action’. Hands off my girls, Justin Bieber! Wink, wink, chortle.

Lie #19/Whopper #4:
As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations.


Lie #20/Whopper #5:
Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.

Oh, please. Where to begin? How about the committees charged with oversight of intelligence ops that can’t get a straight answer from anyone?

Lie #21:
I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.

Except for the kill lists, which are my exclusive domain, and I promise to be totally fair when compiling them.

Lie #22/Whopper #6:
So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

War Is Peace. Obedience Is Truth.

Disturbing truth #47:
Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons.

So that only the big guys like us have them, no one else.

Rosy prediction #30:
The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Which have worked so well up to now.

Disturbing truth #48:
Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.

Note the ‘coalition’ part: that’s to show that we’re not drumming up this campaign out of any crude, selfish motives.

Rosy prediction #31:
At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

Away from eliminating nuclear weapons because, let’s face it, nagahappen.

Disturbing truth #49:
America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.

Given that we have led the way in launching them.

Disturbing truth #50:
We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail.

We know that because we carefully infiltrate and save all those of our own citizens. But no need to worry if you’re innocent of wrongdoing!

Disturbing truth #51:
We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.

Like we would love to do to the Iranians, which would be totally legitimate and not an act of war like at all.

Rosy prediction #32:
We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

For example, we don’t stand idly by in the face of threats to our economy like the housing bubble, nosireebob!

Lie #22/Whopper #7:
That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.

All true up to the part about ‘our privacy’. He’s convinced we’re morons.

Lie #23:
Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Delete ‘secure our networks’, insert ‘spy on everything and everybody’.

Lie #24/Whopper #8:
Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

Completely undermining everything I said in the last hour about domestic job creation.

[End of part 3]

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Talking back - Part 2

[Continuation of annotated SOTU:]

Rosy prediction #8/Lie #11:
There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this [re-industrialization] trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. . . . There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.

Except for the GOP nutbags I keep pandering to with all my deficit/austerity talk.

Rosy prediction #9:
So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

Good luck with that. Don’t forget it will have to cost $0.00 as you faithfully promised before.

Disturbing truth #16:
Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.

Which will come with the support of people who think God created Kentucky in 4,001 B.C.

Disturbing truth #17/Lie #12:
And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.

‘Our’ energy future? Useless chauvinism that feeds the Drill-Baby-Drill foolishness, i.e., dangerous bullshit. Cannot happen except in the parallel universe of Sarah Palins.

Disturbing truth #18:
We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.

And are burning it all up as fast as always.

Not disturbing truth #1:
We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.

Disturbing truth #19:
We produce more natural gas than ever before . . .

Thanks to the fracking debacle, which both present and future generations will pay for dearly.

Disturbing truth #20:
. . . and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.

Although energy will have to be more expensive if we want to avoid frying ourselves.

Lie #12:
And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

Possibly true in a narrow technical sense, which makes the prevarication that much worse.

Rosy prediction #10:
I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change. . .

And I urge daddy to buy me a pony! How about a solution that actually saves our ass instead?

Disturbing truth #21:
. . . like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.

Oh, that’s REALLY reassuring.

Disturbing truth #22:
. . . executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Like scotching the Keystone Pipeline?

Rosy prediction #11:
Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Lie #13:
In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.

Only if ‘cleaner’ is defined to exclude how we get the fuel out of the ground [hint: fracking].

Disturbing truth #23:
That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Now there’s a promise we can count on! Birther states rejoice!

Rosy prediction #12:
But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Through graduate students working in unpaid internships—see, it won’t cost a dime!

Rosy prediction #13:
Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. Let’s free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.

That way, adjustment to global climate change will be totally painless for you drivers! No sacrifice or infrastructural changes will be needed!

Rosy prediction #14:
I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

And remember, all this can happen without adding one cent to the deficit! We’ll get the money from Grandma’s pension.

Rosy prediction #15:
America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Did I mention that, concidentally, North Carolina is a non-union state? I decided not to bring that up since it might offend people who think I’m a Muslim foreigner.

Rosy prediction #16/Disturbing truth #24:
Tonight, I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.

See, it won’t cost anything! It’ll be like it’s free! And once private contractors are done, they can recover their costs by charging us tiny little fees to cross bridges and stuff that will be so low that we’ll hardly even notice.

Rosy prediction #17:
Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

Because the business of America is business. I learned that from reading about Calvin Coolidge.

Lie #14 (repeats lie #1):
Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007.

Which was caused by rampant illegality, fraud and speculation, that will now be restored as is so that banks can reflate the bubble and restore their profits.

Disturbing truth #25:
Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

Thanks in part to zero interest rates, which will not last forever.

Disturbing truth #26:
But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected.

How can that be if the ‘housing market is finally healing’? Could it be that the credit market is not?

Disturbing truth #27:
Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no.

Because the banks and servers can’t gouge enough out of them in fees. Why should they when theft is legal and much more profitable?

Disturbing truth #28:
That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it.

But without making any of the thieves give up their bonuses/jobs/influence. Hey, Jamie Dimon is a smart guy!

Rosy prediction #18:
Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill.

Three whole thousand each! Why, that’s enough to pay even Countrywide’s refi fees.

Lie #15/Whopper #3:
Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

Down with regulations! After all, gummint is the problem, not the free marketplace in the greatest country in the world. Earth to base: it wasn’t overlapping or underlapping or any kind of lapping regulations that blew up the housing market and the world economy; it was the abject failure to use what regulations did exist to stop bubbling-making fraud and theft, which your administration has done zip to prosecute. ‘Streamline’ regulations is Reagan-speak for let them do it all again. Are you out of your mind?

[end of part 2]

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Talking back - Part 1

Below is an annotated version of the State of the Union address, with helpful headings:

Lie #1:
Our housing market is healing.

For those suckers willing to sign over their firstborn to the unreformed, criminal mortgage banking industry.

Disturbing truth #1:
[We buy] less foreign oil than we have in twenty [years].

Why is this good? Because when Antarctica disappears, it will disappear due to U.S.- produced emissions? I feel so proud.

Rosy prediction #1:
Our stock market is rebounding.

Taking credit for what happens in stock markets: quite a risky bet. So you plan to take the blame if/when it tanks?

Lie #2/Whopper #1:
Consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Oh, please. Because the banks promise not to do those naughty things any more?

Disturbing truth #2:
Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Great, so we will impose austerity, given that it’s worked so well in Europe.

Lie #3:
Now we need to finish the job.

The ‘job’ being further deficit reduction. Says who? Folding the Republican austerity meme into the ‘we’ bipartisanship b.s. means we are screwed..

Disturbing truth #3:
[A]bout a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts [will] automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.

THIS is what we should mourn? That is this the silver lining, ergo highly unlikely to last.

Disturbing truth #4:
[T]he biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population.

True except not just for the aged, and when you say it that way, it sets up the inter-generational war that you and everyone else keeps saying we should avoid.

Lie #4:
[W]e can’t just cut our way to prosperity.

In fact, we can’t cut our way to prosperity at all. WTF with the word ‘just’ here?

Lie #5:
[B]road-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.

The fair share for some meant losing their jobs and homes, if not their pensions. They remain screwed, but we why fix that? Much more fun to start cutting back on their remaining safety net like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Lies #6 & #7:
On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.

There WAS no proposal from the cat-food/Simpson-Bowles ‘Commission’. They couldn’t come up with a document that obtained the necessary support, so it died. Beltway Bandits keep resuscitating the dead thing and pretending it’s alive. It isn’t.

The Catfood/Simpson-Bowles Commission was ‘bipartisan’ only insofar as you appointed two austerity fanatics, one from each party.

Rosy prediction #2:
Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.

Correlation is not causation even if there is some slowing of costs. Also, infinite acceleration is not possible except in black holes.

Rosy prediction #3/Disturbing truth #4:
We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors.

Good luck with the first part, but by pretending to try to get it, you will undoubtedly be able to pass off the latter part as a nice, reasonable, centrist, fair package, and then be able to say —oops!— when only the ‘ask more’ part gets enacted.

Rosy prediction #4:
We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital. They should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.

Disturbing truth #5:
And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement.

Define ‘secure’.

Disturbing truth #6:
To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target. . .

GOP Kool-Aid alert. Austerity meme alert.

Lie #8:
Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.

No, the best chance for that was in 2009 with a huge Democratic majority in both houses. Instead, we got bank bailouts and the Tea Party.

Disturbing truth #7:
The American people deserve a tax code that . . . lowers incentives to move jobs overseas,

True! So to get one, we’re going to dismantle the ship-jobs-to-China strategy, NAFTA and the Pacific free-trade scams that have made the elites insanely rich and ripped industrial jobs out of Rust Belt! Oh goody! At last!

Disturbing truth #8:
I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy.

Why are these two things always linked? And why does Obama use Republican language? Oh, I guess calling it ’cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare’ wouldn’t sound as nice.

Lie #9/Whopper #2:
The greatest nation on Earth . . .

By any measure other than GDP and armaments, utterly false and delusional.

Disturbing truth #9:
. . . .drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. . .

Like the entitlement crisis/budget deficit panic that you have spent half this speech banging away on?

Lie #10:
Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda.

No, and in fact there are whole schools of economics that absolutely do not agree, but you Beltway types have managed to suppress those dissident voices.

Disturbing truth #10:
But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.

In fact, it’s a really bad idea, but coming from you with all sorts of nice things attached to it, it will go forward as the main element of said plan. Did I mention that it has been really successful in Europe?

Rosy prediction #5:
A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.

Disturbing truth #11/Rhetorical question #1:
Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores?

You mean the ones we shipped over to the Communist Party bosses in China to be filled by their slaves? Oh, and BTW, would this be the time we mention jobs with union protections for workers, or would that be controversial?

Disturbing truth #12/Rhetorical question #2:
How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?

Why, by setting up for-profit schools run by hedge funds and ripping out teachers unions, that’s how!

Rhetorical question #3:
And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

Why does work have to be ‘hard’? Because people prefer handouts? I thought the other guy pushed that line. Why can’t a decent living be obtained through mere ‘work’ instead of ‘hard work’? Are we all welfare queens if we don’t suffer enough?

Disturbing truth #13:
I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for.

Perish the thought they actually cost money that isn’t taken from somewhere else! That only applies to bombers and battleships.

Disturbing truth #14:
[N]othing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.

Repeat of Republican shibboleth.

Rosy prediction #6:
It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government.

And is ‘bigger’ government incapable of solving the problem because it IS the problem? Are we echoing Saint Ronald?

Rosy prediction #7:
Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

Because we are going to reverse polarity on that NAFTA/free-trade magnet that pulled them out in the first place. Right-o!

Disturbing truth #15:
After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico.

Yes, in non-union Georgia (Caterpillar) and Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan (Ford), where Mazda is at the same time removing auto jobs and putting them in Mexico.

[end of Part I]

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Is the Pope Catholic?

While it’s startling to think a Pope could actually retire and not just meld ethereally into the firmament like one of the Roman emperors-turned-gods with whom his predecessors’ hob-knobbed, Benny 16’s abrupt announcement also illustrates what a flop he’s been under the holy hat. As a place-holder for the Vatican to get its bearings after the reign of JP II, he neither kept a low enough profile to be inoffensive nor managed the unruly Curia astutely enough to prevent its wild infighting from filtering into public view.

Ben XVI has a reputation as an intellectual, but if he really is a smart guy, his PR advisors were a disaster. The inexplicably dumb citation in his Regensberg lecture of a nasty critic of Islam set back the ecumenical spirit among monotheists enormously (one could argue whether this is entirely a bad thing—but I digress), and his handling of the rolling child sexual abuse scandals also was a wreck, formal apologies notwithstanding. He couldn’t keep the lid on the latest financial funny business that led his butler to smuggle out damaging documents, and the use of Twitter does not a modernizer make.

As for the voluntary early retirement, it’s probably what we’ll recall as his best move and completely counterintuitive to his defense of the mystical role of the papacy and the RCC itself. Future popes won’t be seen to symbolically leave the earthly realm upon taking office but more as CEOs, with or without training as such. For that reason I suspect the succession candidates will attract more attention if they actually know something about reading a balance sheet and other managerial skills, whether or not they look nice in a surplice.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Tales of Kafka

Speaking of Shin Bet-style tactics, Glenn Greenwald details in The Guardian the troubling fate of Saadiq Long, 43, a U.S. citizen and veteran banned from flying home from his job teaching English in Qatar to see his dying mother. Long ended up on the so-called ‘no-fly list’ that the FBI maintains to keep allegedly dangerous elements off airplanes. It’s not as bad as Obama’s Tuesday afternoon kill lists, but it shares certain elements, namely total secrecy and no appeals.

Long has never been charged with a crime and spent months futilely trying to find out why he made the list, which prevents airlines from boarding him. (It’s pretty hard to get home from Qatar without taking an airplane.) Greenwald wrote about him once before, and that article may have budged the faceless bureaucracy.
Two weeks after that article was published, Long - without explanation - was finally removed from the no-fly list and he flew from Doha to Oklahoma City to visit his mother and other family members. He took several flights to make the 20-hour journey, all without incident. He has remained in Oklahoma for the last ten weeks, visiting his family in the US for the first time in over a decade.

But now Long - unbeknownst to him - has once again apparently been secretly placed by some unknown National Security State bureaucrat on the no-fly list. On [Jan. 30], he went to the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City to fly back home to Qatar. In order to ensure there were no problems, his lawyer sent the FBI a letter ahead of time notifying them that Long would be flying home on that date.

But without explanation, Long was denied a boarding pass at the airport by a Delta Airlines agent. Three local police officers then arrived on the scene, followed by a US Transportation Security Administration agent who told Long he could not board but did not give him a specific reason.

No one else did either, including the airline (Delta), the TSA, or FBI headquarters.

As Greenwald writes, ‘Imagine imagine being a U.S. citizen, denied the right to travel home—first to your own country, then back to your family—by a government that has never charged you with any crime or indicated you have engaged in wrongdoing of any sort’.
But what’s particularly infuriating here is that, if they had evidence that Long has done anything wrong, they easily could have arrested him at any point over the last ten weeks when he was in the U.S.
Greenwald then argues that the FBI couldn’t possibly think Long is really a threat because they have had amply opportunity to arrest him. Or if the evidence was too shaky, they could put an air marshal on the plane next to him with a loaded gun. His conclusion is that the no-fly list is not meant to protect us but to ‘mete out extra-judicial punishment’.

He notes that the list has grown under Obama to 21,000 names as per an AP report, including 500 Americans. To obtain the distinction, one now need not be determined a threat to aviation but a threat to ‘domestic or international security’, whatever that means. Another example of Obama deepening and in fact worsening the abuses of the Bush years.

Greenwald’s earlier article about Long generated protests and some thousands of emails to the local FBI office in Oklahoma City. So that could be an underlying motive of the harassment.

But there’s also another possibility, as suggested by the previous post about Shin Bet: Long is well positioned for recruitment by U.S. intelligence agencies trying to penetrate Muslim groups in the Arab Gulf states. What if he has been approached to spy on his friends and colleagues and said no? The Shin Bet guys knew how to pressure, cajole, threaten and harass sources into informing on their fellow villagers and even relatives, and the FBI are past masters of it (note, for example, the fictionalized but entirely credible handling of naïve Adriana in The Sopranos). Maybe Long just refused to participate and is now paying the price.

Meanwhile, he has no remedy and must seek alternative routes back to Qatar without falling into the hands of other foreign governments equally disposed to harass or even imprison and torture him. It’s happened plenty of times even without active U.S. complicity. As Greenwald summarizes:
So now he's just in a no-man's land. He can't contest the accusations against him because there are none. After being blocked for months from visiting his own country and his terminally ill mother, he's now barred from returning to his home, his job, and his own family. All of this is done by his own government without a shred of due process, transparency or accountability.
The foundation of this state behavior is the idea that a U.S. government determination that you are a bad guy is fully equivalent to guilt. With this attitude, largely endorsed by the American public, I might add, which places priority on its own safety and comfort above the constitutional protections provided by the Founding Fathers, we are back to state punishment without charge, bills of attainder and the Star Chamber, with our only hope not being personally dragged into the whirlwind of persecution.

Lessons from Shin Bet

The new documentary film The Gatekeepers stars an unlikely crew of Israeli liberals: six former directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, a sort of combined FBI and Homeland Security. These are the guys responsible for rooting out threats from the Palestinian enemies and, sometimes, blowing them up.

So they did that over the years, more or less as a matter of course, displaying a mentality we can immediately recognize: we are under attack, we hit back, we destroy them, et voilà, where’s the problem?

Except that for all six of them, the results are not what they hoped or expected to achieve. As one says in conclusion, ‘We have won every battle, but we are losing the war’.

He means that peace and security are no closer for Israel and its citizens than they were 45 or even 65 years ago after the great victories of 1948 and 1968. One by one, these former heads of the agency that interrogated tens of thousands of Palestinian detainees, recruited informants and traitors among them, spied upon every last goat herder and olive farmer, compiled information on anything that moved throughout the occupied territories until the control was absolute—they all conclude that an empowered settler movement, which overlaps with the extreme and sometimes violent right-wing forces in Israeli politics, have crushed any chance for long-term, peaceful coexistence.

That’s interesting in itself and worth giving them a hearing. But what’s missing from their account is any awareness of how they contributed to this outcome with their police-state tactics. In fact, the filmmaker shows (but does not explicitly acknowledge) an eerie parallel between Shin Bet’s approach to controlling the West Bank and Gaza and the East German Stasi as illustrated in The Lives of Others (2006).

The film shows the enormous effort and expense Israel expended in tracking down the perpetrators of violence from the conquered territories, and how many were killed or imprisoned as a result (along with many non-violent political opponents of Israeli policies who are not mentioned). It’s hardly surprising that support for Draconian police measures was overwhelming as Israelis saw themselves threatened by things like attacks on public buses and meeting places. So Shin Bet was set loose to crush everything.

Meanwhile, not much attention was paid to the lives of the people under occupation and virtually none to the possibility that they, too, experienced random attacks. Given their statelessness, they had no recourse to defend their property or lives. And we know what happened when a sector of the Israeli leadership tried to find a way to neutralize their long-standing grievances through the Oslo process—Prime Minister Rabin fell to an assassin after a lengthy process of demonization and right-wing threats.

The Shin Bet fellows now wonder where things are heading given the settlers’ dominance of Israeli politics and their indifference to the fate of their non-Jewish neighbors. One can only conclude that Israel will remain on a permanent war footing, hostile to its neighbors, and relying on force to crush opposition or foreign threats.

Perhaps we will have a Napolitano or a Brennan look back on their round-ups and drone strikes 20 or 30 years from now in a similar fashion and wonder why things didn’t turn out as they had hoped, that the tough-guy, kill-‘em-all approach hasn’t brought peace, security and universal love to Americans despite all those billions poured into Making-Us-Safe.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Protecting American lives

A thought experiment: what would happen under our current criminal justice system to someone who did the following:

-conspired with people in Saudi Arabia to target U.S. citizens;

-helped them launch a surprise, airborne attack against said U.S. citizens resulting in their deaths?

Why, we’d throw the book at them, or better yet, throw out the book and just put them in a dungeon on Guantánamo forever. Right?

Wrong. The individual in question is about to be made head of the CIA. John Brennan, it has now been revealed, responded to pressure from his Saudi friends to target U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone attack BEFORE he was linked to the notorious Christmas bomber who tried to blow up a plane headed for Detroit.

When that succeeded, Brennan & Co. targeted Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also a U.S. citizen, and killed him, too. We’re not sure for what—hey, who needs charges, much less trials? Combining the roles of judge, jury and executioner is so much more efficient.

But Brennan didn’t get time for these Saudi-inspired murders, nor an army of security types bursting into his home at 4 a.m. to wrap him in chains and an orange jumpsuit. He got a promotion.

Obama insists he has the right to target and assassinate Americans, essentially revoking the Magna Carta and 1000 years of Anglo-Saxon law. His press secretary, Mr Gibbs, taunted journalists who asked what the basis for the Awlaki actions was and mocked the dead kid for having the wrong dad.

It’s modestly encouraging to see that the drone business is drawing a little more heat, but it’s probably too late to reverse course on the steady stripping of our civilian protections from the repressive arm of the state. We will come to regret this lapse sorely.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Geography lessons

We’ve been subjected to the spectacle of a field of escaped zoo animals debating domestic and fiscal policy for a couple of years now, so it probably was time for the carnival to sweep into the foreign policy field as well given that things have progressed so wonderfully for the Empire lately. A number of commentators have pointed out the peculiar world our alleged ‘leaders’ live in when they can grill prospective Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel for hours on countries on the other side of the globe while ignoring the ones next door.

Someone took the trouble to search the transcripts of the bizarro-world Senate hearings with Hagel and found that Israel and threats to that state were brought up 178 times, followed by Iran at 171 mentions.

Compare that with the also-rans on the congressional priority list:

Iraq 30
Afghanistan 27
Russia 23
Palestinians 22
Syria 18
North Korea 11
Pakistan 10
Egypt 9
China 5
Libya 2
Bahrain 2
Somalia 2
Japan 1
South Korea 1
Turkey 1
Mali 1
Jordan 1

Note that all those other hotspots together add to up 171 comments. So in the minds of our distinguished solons, Israel is at least as important as the rest of the world combined. Or at least the Israel lobby is.

You’d think that someone, somewhere (Arizona maybe? Texas?) would think to ask the incoming chief of our military forces about the 1000-mile-plus border with, um, Mexico and how things were going with our next-door neighbor to the south? But if there’s a ‘Mexico lobby’ funneling money to them, we’re probably better off not knowing about it.

Connect the dots 10011001

Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow about how our criminal justice/prison system is a way for us to preserve practical segregation while pretending to be an enlightened and pluralistic society. She writes in today’s NY Times that police officers are given incentives to lie under oath and make up crimes where none have been committed.

No one should be surprised that sometimes, some cops make shit up. But Alexander’s argument is systemic: she says the pressure to ‘make the numbers’ is built into the enforcement apparatus and that therefore, cops being human, they’re going to commit perjury if it will save their jobs and/or asses. This was typically rampant in narcotics units where the accused were usually saddled with priors and couldn’t make a credible defense, whether or not they were guilty in the specific case alleged. But Alexander says it goes much deeper than that:

THE pressure to boost arrest numbers is not limited to drug law enforcement. Even where no clear financial incentives exist, the “get tough” movement has warped police culture to such a degree that police chiefs and individual officers feel pressured to meet stop-and-frisk or arrest quotas in order to prove their “productivity.”

She points out that some federal law enforcement monies are tied directly to arrest numbers so that if arrests are not forthcoming, the cash dries up. Here in New York the chiefs have insisted they impose no quotas on officers for arrests, which isn’t surprising since that’s illegal. But we have concrete voice recordings from precinct captains showing that they do. (Curiously, despite the widespread use of wiretaps to convict people, nothing has happened to the police hierarchs who were caught breaking THAT particular law.)

Alexander quotes one city police officer who spoke out on ABC News about quotas:
Our primary job is not to help anybody, our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them. At the end of the night you have to come back with something. You have to write somebody, you have to arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number’s there. So our choice is to come up with the number.
The numbers rule once again. Why does this sound so familiar? Why, isn’t this the same city where Mayor Bloomberg has insisted for years on ‘rating’ schoolteachers to make sure they are doing a good job? Haven’t we pushing schools and kids for at least a decade, through No Child Left Behind and the Obama/Duncan/Rhee version of school ‘reform’, to test-test-test and thereby prove you know something?

It’s as if the measurability of a thing makes it real while all else disappears into an amorphous soup, a cloud of humanistic do-gooderism that can’t be taken seriously. What a commentary on our hyper-computerized culture and the creeping dictatorship of HAL.

Immigration and ‘welfare’

The legacy parties are trying to repair the damage to their reputations of decades of heartless b.s. with regard to Mexicans and other Hispanics, so the immigration debate has exploded post-election. This is a good thing, and demographic (read voting) pressures probably will push them off their bloody-minded and racist posturing for a while. Something positive might even come of it, you never know.

It’s interesting and significant, however, that the debate over what new citizens will cost, if anything, is being cast as their access to ‘welfare’ programs, by which the reactionaries mean Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security. Huh? Medicaid could be fairly called a healthcare subsidy for the poor, but the other two? They are social insurance programs that we PAY for—it’s like saying that when you submit a claim to State Farm or Nationwide, you’re a deadbeat.

But the think-tank ranter I heard on The News Hour this week laying into the woman from La Raza kept using the term ‘welfare’ over and over again, which means it’s part of their considered strategy. It obviously means to discredit potential amnesty beneficiaries and play to the hostility of nativists about that old bugaboo, the alleged free ride that poor people get while the rest of us work. Ho hum.

So that’s the reward we get for allowing Clinton-ite ‘centrist’ Democrats to dismantle old-fashioned welfare and replace it with the punitive TANF and other demeaning exercises: the right-wingers have moved on to other targets. Now any cash payment from the state to a vulnerable citizen is ‘welfare’—even if you worked half your life to earn it.

Conservative Dems love to parade themselves as savvy political operators and convince us that their adoption of bankers’ rhetoric is just a tactical feint to undermine the appeal of the crazies. But in no time we’re living in a Republican universe. Expect this process to be repeated when Obama buckles on ‘welfare’ programs like your Social Security insurance.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Koch dies, announces he’s gay

Former New York City mayor Edward Koch announced Friday that he was in fact gay, shortly after succumbing to congestive heart failure.

The colorful New York figure who served three terms at Gracie Mansion said ‘the time had come’ to confirm what many New Yorkers had known for decades about his sexual orientation. ‘I wasn’t sure it was the right moment, but it seemed as good a time as any,’ said the ex-mayor, whose announcement came at approximately 2:15 a.m., just minutes after being pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Koch, who never married, was a controversial figure in his 12 years as mayor and was often presumed to be in the closet. He was a congressman from a liberal Manhattan district in the years before any gay politicians dared to be open about their personal lives.

Critics said Koch’s slow response to the AIDS epidemic in New York reflected his fear of being associated with anything associated with homosexuality. A recent PBS documentary about the Stonewall rebellion of 1969 showed Koch expressing sympathy with the police and neighbors unhappy about the unruly gay youth who had come to populate the West Village area.

Koch’s surprise acknowledgement that he had spent nearly a century in the closet coincided with his shuffling off the mortal coil with which he had experienced his sexual activity. ‘I know some will say I waited too long,’ he quipped in his signature crusty style. ‘But this is a very personal decision, and it just felt right to do it when I was no longer a person.’

‘Anyway,’ concluded the outgoing mayor, ‘how’m I doing?’