Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Sauce for the goose

I’m waiting for the howls of outrage ratchet up over the Chinese cybersnooping and stealing of secrets on U.S. weapons systems. So far at least, I haven’t noticed any indignant claims that such behavior is against the rules or merits shock, shock. That’s probably because the U.S. and in particular its Israeli ally have been bragging about their successes in doing the very same thing. Or at least they were until recently.

Perhaps the triumphalism over messing up Iran’s nuclear capabilities will wear thin as the Pentagon guys and their prosperous commercial partners in the war industries realize how vulnerable they are themselves. It’s a good reminder that new war weapons and strategies, such as drone assassination campaigns, sound pretty cool when one has a monopoly on them but become not nearly so much fun when everyone else can unleash a similar weapon.

Faulty memories on Mem Day

NY1, the all-news station here, had a welcome piece yesterday about the thousands of homeless veterans living in the streets of our city. But in general, the lack of a critical eye in the Memorial Day coverage was notorious, which is both understandable and disturbing.

When people are mourning loved ones who died while serving in uniform, it’s appropriate for reporters to keep a respectful distance. But given the social and human impact of decisions about war and our vast military apparatus, it’s reasonable to expect some sober thinking applied to how we talk to each other about it, in the choice of stories covered and the language used. For example, after more than a decade of ongoing debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, how can anyone call military service today ‘defending the American way of life’ with a straight face? Foreign invasions might conceivably be necessary, and it's an appropriate topic for debate. But I'm sorry, they have very little to do with the defense of Iowa.

That was a constant of the patriotic reporting yesterday along with a major absence: the physically and mentally maimed and wounded. If we are going to honor the troops, how about some focus on the costs our military actions have imposed on them?

Furthermore, is the ongoing sequester of government monies not relevant to the services suffering veterans need? How come elected officials get to preside over events with beautiful seas of American flags waving in the breeze, but no one dares to ask them if they’ll provide the tax money to see to soldiers’ needs? Would that be considered rude?

Friday, 24 May 2013

Is Obama the Manchurian Candidate?

Obama was in full damage control mode yesterday on a variety of fronts, and that is a good thing. While much of the scandalmongering from the GOP head-case caucus is delusional, there are truly dangerous precedents being set. The barrage of criticism, even the tendentious variety over Benghazi and the IRS, is preventing Obama from doing any further damage.

The news conference acknowledging deaths of Americans in overseas drone strikes was remarkable in that it took this long to pry the official facts out of them. We already knew them because Mr. Down-With-Traitorous-Leaks had had his people spill the triumphant beans ages ago. But despite the carefully massaged talking points on display, the explanations left the situation pretty much right where it was.

Does the U.S. have the legal authority to target individuals in countries with which we are not at war and assassinating them? Does this authority include only foreigners or American citizens, too? Is there any limit on the assassination power such as, um, for example, requiring that evidence of their evil-doing be presented to a court? How often should we dispense with courts entirely and have the commander-in-chief review the evidence and issue the death pentalty independently?

Holder said that one assassinated public enemy, Anwar Awlaki, was involved in terrorist plots, such as that of the ‘underwear bomber’ of Christmas, 2009. How do we know this? Because Eric Holder said so and disseminated this assertion through the nation’s news media. Then they killed him. This is supposed to make us feel secure.

So let’s review: our leaders, charged with the duty to uphold the laws, say they have tons of secret dirt on people, but it’s too dangerous to reveal and far too troublesome, tiresome and slow to use in court. Therefore, they can proceed with vaporization.

Remember that absurd Tom Cruise sci-fi movie from a few years ago, Minority Report, with the weird clairvoyants floating in ponds who could tell who was going to commit a crime in advance? Who knew they would be in charge of the Justice Department?

On drone killings, further assassinations and targeting of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, Obama’s statements sound conciliatory at first until one looks for anything substantial. Time after time, weasel words and caveats appear that guarantee the powers already seized by Obama and by Bush before him will remain intact. Any decision not to use them in response to criticism or opposition will be exactly that—a decision, not a restriction on the powers themselves.

As Juan Cole pointed out, the shift of the drone program out of the CIA over to the Pentagon is a minor victory given that it enables Congress to exercise oversight over their use. That assumes, of course, some degree of willingness or desire in Congress to do so. Ditto for the facile use of the phrase ‘due process’ for the accused assassination targets, as if such a thing were possible within a closed process at which self-appointed judges rule on secret ‘evidence’. The whole disussion is farcical.

It’s business as usual on Guantánamo, too. Here, Obama insults our intelligence with promises that will kick in ‘once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo’. Who is he kidding with this meaningless tripe? If he isn’t willing to take unilateral action and stand up to the howls of demagogic outrage about coddling terrorists, nothing will change. Obama looks set to preside over eight years of grotesque abuse of every principle of the rule of law and to hand over the sorry mess to the next guy.

It’s amazing how tough Obama can look when he wants to order death from the sky or persecute whistleblowers, then see him lie down like a pussycat at the feet of reactionary wackos like Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss promptly called Obama’s bland statements a ‘victory for terrorists’. Awaiting cooperation from these psychos is itself delusional.

A lot of people insist that Obama is no dummy, and I have no reason to doubt it. So are we to conclude that he has painted himself into precisely the corner that he wishes to occupy? It’s frightening to think that Mitt Romney might have had more balls. I suspect it will take a Republican president to put an end to this disgrace.

Meanwhile, our only hope for counter-pressure to this now permanent threat of state-sanctioned killing is the rickety free press, also a tender object of frustrated desire by the current crew. Fresh from letting his enforcers go fishing in reporters’ phone records and thereby terrifying their sources within the government, Obama gave no guarantees to journalists that the harassment and prosecution will stop. So prepare for further snooping and more espionage prosecutions.

Here was Obama at his most unctuous, calling for a new media ‘shield’ law to prevent people like him from doing what he did. Why not say it was wrong and promise to stop? Adding pious phrases about the holy ‘commitment to protect classified information’ is so much crap—Obama’s people spill secret stuff all the time to make him look good. He’s just pissed about things that do the opposite.

In summary, Obama’s performance was all hat, no cattle. He’s doing exactly what he wants and setting up the security state to operate completely outside any illusion of oversight or democratic control. His legacy will be frightening.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Make private charity pay for OK tornado damage

Okay, all you inflamed campaigners against big gummint and its horrors: where’s the cash now that the ferociously anti-state Oklahomans need up to $2 billion to repair the storm damage?

In response to any suggestion that there might be a role for the commonweal to play in making people’s lives better, we get a howl of indignation from the official Christians in places like, um, Oklahoma about how good old-fashioned neighborliness can do a much better job than any old bureaucracy. So okay, people, it’s time to start baking those pies and oh, incidentally, also to pony up the thousands of dollars per household that will be needed to rebuild the schools, fix the roads and bail out the homeless of Moore.

Since no doubt everyone will joyfully make that contribution from their cookie jars, there will be no need for onerous tolls collected by an impersonal state. In the marvy Utopia of stateless Oklahoma, we will simply have to pass the basket at the next PTA meeting so that people can gladly drop in a 100-dollar bill or so each week until, let’s say, 2015. Right?

If this sounds nutty, consider that the state’s two senators, Coburn and Imhofe, have voted repeatedly against any federal aid for Hurricane Sandy victims. Perhaps they’ll have a different idea now that the damage isn’t on the eastern seaboard but in the Tornado Alley that runs through their home towns.

But for consistency’s sake, they should be refusing all that vile federal dough drawn from hard-working taxpayers. Or are they afraid that Oklahomans aren’t so Christian after all when it comes to parting with their cash?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Homo bashing on the rise in New York as gay agenda sweeps the country

Could there be a link between these two phenomena? Does the surprisingly rapid success of marriage equality and other gay issues represent a psychic threat to fragile straight guys? It’s not a crazy thought.

Here in New York City we just witnessed a completely unprovoked gay hate crime two blocks away from the Stonewall Inn. A nutcase visiting from out of town packed a pistol, rode the subway to Manhattan, pissed on the famous bar and taunted customers, then walked over to Sixth Avenue and shot a completely random stranger in the head after calling him a faggot and a queer. The kid died. The photo is his companion in shock from the vicious crime.

The alleged perpetrator, who was picked up a block away, has a hefty prison record. His sister said he was incapable of doing such a thing sober, and in photos the guy looks demented.

So are drunk straight men freaking the hell out because of homo emancipation? Antigay hate crimes are up in New York as even the police commissioner recognizes, including spontaneous looking assaults on gay couples by Knicks fans, uptight thugs and random suburban mooks. The incidents have occurred on the subway, outside bars, and on the street.

The pattern is generating some speculation, including the usual complaint when people obtain their rights, that things are ‘moving too fast’. Yeah, slavery should have been allowed to exist another 100 years so that the opponents could get comfortable with the idea over time.

What has changed here in New York, as many people have observed (myself included), is that winning marriage equality has made people bolder in showing who they are. Just days after the vote passed in 2010, I saw two quite straight-looking Dominican fellows openly canoodle on a park bench along Central Park West. That’s got to rankle the nervous bully-boys who either can’t stand gays or are terrified that they might be one. Drunk or not, the Greenwich Village assassin and his tough-guy peers may be lashing out at the thought they are no longer lords of the street, that they have to share it with regular folks and, omigod, even free women.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Obama overreach inflames previously hypnotized press corps

As I sensed yesterday, Obama’s direct assault on the operations of the ne plus ultra of mainstream journalism, the Associated Press, has finally awakened the majors to the creeping authoritarianism of this White House. As Greenwald snidely notes in The Guardian,

It is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as ‘cruel and inhuman’.

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up.
Well, hey, welcome, latecomers! And now for all those worried that the terrible meanies from the GOP will take advantage of this gross error to make political hay: get over it. Thank god and all the relevant saints that there remains a semblance of adversarial politics in this country even if the other team is completely demented. Yes, Obama and the Dems are going to be shellacked by the twin AP/IRS scandals, and yes, it will be utilized cynically to advance the anti-tax, anti-government agenda. That’s how it works.

The hot-seat being prepared for the Obama team might be regrettable if Obama actually represented some sort of alternative to that conservative vision or had any intention of defending the government’s taxing power and preserving the New Deal legay. But he’s said and demonstrated repeatedly that he doesn’t, so now the best thing that can happen is for his entire agenda to be bushwhacked into oblivion. There won’t be much left to celebrate, but at least he won’t be able to do any further damage.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder’s performance at congressional hearings today was a display of imprudent arrogance, reflecting a dangerously detached sense in the Obama Administration of their own untouchability. But just because they’ve been able to accumulate endless powers over the citizenry from their aerie atop the security state does not mean they are invulnerable to the combined fury of the suddenly indignant news media and the wacko brigades of the right.

This should be fun. Lay in popcorn.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Government spy apparatus now turned against free press

Obama’s decision to go fishing in AP’s phone logs is a dangerous attempt to chill the free flow of inconvenient information, but it’s also kind of great to see the mainstream guys get slammed by the White House determination to dismantle any restriction on its authoritarian powers. When the big players start to feel the heat on THEMSELVES, that’s when they start to sit up and take notice—not before.

I recall back in the early 1980s when I happened to overhear one of the early radical right-wingers on the phone of a Washington hotel in between news conferences—I think it was Howard Philips but can’t remember for sure. He was talking to Jesse Helms’ office, and I used the information he was blabbing to embarrass him later in their own press briefing. He then retaliated by denouncing and my institution (Pacifica Radio) and naming me personally as unworthy beneficiaries of government largesse via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was the early Reagan years, and this finger-pointing was a harbinger of the way the newly empowered ultras would go after anyone whom they didn’t like enjoying a slice of public money.

We called some likely supporters to see if they were worried about this threatening gesture, and needless to say, they were not. Frank Mankiewicz at National Public Radio went on the record with me to say that he saw nothing in the incoming Republican administration that should give cause for alarm. Six months later he was tooting a very different horn when the Reagan Administration came after his own operation, a sustained campaign that successfully pushed NPR toward becoming the insidiously bland insider font of contemporary Beltway wisdom that it is today.

That was then, when Democrats and self-described liberals were indignant about the creeping authoritarianism of the Reaganite crew. But now that cool Mr O is doing it, many in the blue camp are eager to find a reason why this is sorta okay as Glenn Greenwald documents. It’s going to come as a real shock to these folks sometime in the future when some vicious creep comes after them from the Obama-empowered security state and says, Guess what? Under the Obama Doctrine of 2013, we’re charging you with espionage for what you wrote, and the sentence could be 40 years. Reveal ALL your sources or say goodbye to life.

Meanwhile, isn’t it interesting that the Obamanoid repressive apparatus can’t lay a finger on anyone to prevent the nutbag Republicans from obtaining all sorts of flimsy evidence to assault them over Benghazi and other non-issues. No, those guys enjoy the full protection of a free-wheeling dissident environment where anything goes and the powerful are easy targets. But woe to anyone trying to criticize Obama as a despot, a warmonger or a buddy-boy of the corrupt banksters. Those reporters and activists are The Enemy, and there will be no quarter given.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Assayas’ “Après Mai”

French director Olivier Assayas’ story of ‘Carlos the Jackal’ was a gripping television series turned into a six-hour film (Carlos), which I not only saw in its uncut version but might even sit through again. It reminded me of how certain left-wing ideas that had penetrated profoundly the culture of my youth went off the rails into what was then properly called ‘terrorism’. The deadly bands around Venezuelan adventurer Illich Ramírez and other ultra-left entities like the Red Army Faction, Baader-Meinhof and their imitators saw the carnage of the Vietnam years, recalled the horrors of the recent world war and mistakenly imagined themselves into a worldwide revolutionary struggle that required them to go out and commit murder. Once they had crossed that line, as Carlos and another fine film, The Baader-Meinhof Gang, showed, it was easy to justify all sorts of criminal brutality.

But Assayas’ latest offering about the post-1968 generation, translated here as Something in the Air, strongly suggests that his devastating take on cracked militants like Ramírez stems from an underlying problem with political activism itself. His latest characters are high school students in the 1970s, which means that they just missed the upheavals of 1968 (the ‘Mai’ in the title’s reference) but are carrying on in the radical garb handed down from those times. They produce tracts, hold raucous debates, and spray-paint their own school, and while their fellow students dutifully accept the leftist newspapers, the slightly dazed expression on their faces suggests that everyone can sense that the air has gone out of that balloon.

There’s certainly plenty to mock in the messy, naïve and foolish gestures of the seventies, a period Assayas said in an interview he ‘hated everything about’. He gets mileage out of Gilles, his artistically-minded protagonist, who is an island of intuitive good sense while his friends head off into sour left-wing sects or goofy mysticism, usually as part of fragile and/or exploitative romances. Gilles can easily be read as a stand-in for Assayas himself who obviously chose an artist’s life rather than dedication to a cause, and good for him. But because Assayas finds no credible reason for ongoing activism, no social ills that might merit attention, and begins to look like a self-righteous scold.

If he had looked a little beyond his youthful distaste for the excesses of his peers, Assayas might have found the seeds planted by ‘Mai’ in other places, among competent professionals toiling in law, medicine, journalism, unions, the nonprofit sector, or what have you, pursuing the goals of 1968 steadily and sensibly. He could have included characters who overdid it as youth but landed on their feet, who made bad mistakes but recognized them and also took something positive away from their misguided militancy, like solidarity with the downtrodden or hatred of brutality and war.

Instead, Assayas draws a portrait that will be comforting to the smug and selfish of succeeding generations who can’t be bothered with anything not directly related to their own careers, pleasures and private lives. Those are the real descendants of the hated 70s, which culminated in selfishness raised to an art form precisely at the decade’s end, i.e., the advent of Reaganism in 1980.

That counter-revolution is still with us in the form of grotesque exploitation by the bankster 1% and all manner of dangerous Tea Party-style wacko influences on our daily lives. But Assayas’ focus on fringe characters like Carlos and the beknighted adolescents of Après Mai suggests that resistance is not only futile but pathetic.

Friday, 10 May 2013

“What kind of monster does that!?”

So cried a Cleveland reporter while chasing after the owner of Horror House during his recent perp walk. It was a question on all our minds upon learning details of the decade-long kidnapping three young women and their unimaginable ordeal of beatings, rape and imprisonment.

But wait a minute, let’s have a look at the details. Ariel Castro is accused of having snatched innocent girls off the streets, put them in tiny cages, deprived them of food, beaten them, sexually abused them repeatedly—in short, of cutting them off from life and condemned them to permanent residence as his playthings with no recourse to anyone from the outside world.

“What kind of monster does that?”

Why, a very well-known one: us.

Every single detail of what has happened to those Ohio women is included in the litany of horrors suffered by the men in Bagram or Guantánamo, including their innocence. (How many were picked up off the street in Pakistan or Kabul and sold to the Americans as ‘terrorists’ for ransom?) They’re been starved, beaten, sexually humiliated and kept in cages for almost exactly 10 years.

The outrage and shock over Cleveland is a massive psychological trick. Our fury at Ariel Castro is nothing compared to the shame we are projecting onto him from our own unspeakable behavior.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Why not celebrate the downfall of Albany "politicians"?

Here in New York State, we have been witness in recent weeks to a disturbing parade of elected officials being handcuffed and hustled down to the courthouse steps for a perp walk. But while prosecution of sleaze should be welcome, there is a very disturbing aspect to the narrative of heroic law enforcement shooting at fish in a barrel.

The latest is the indictment of state senator John Sampson for some funny business that surprises no one familiar with the doings of our Albany legislators. He was apparently caught on tape figuring out how to funnel cash that he was supposed to be safeguarding (from foreclosures, no less) into his failed bid to become Brooklyn district attorney. (The irony is not lost on us—this guy came within four points of becoming the chief law enforcement officer of the city’s second largest borough.)

But how exactly was Sampson caught in these conversations? Well for one thing, his senate colleague, Shirley Huntley, was wearing a wire to entrap him, that to get herself a better deal with the feds in her own previously undisclosed criminal case. The prospect of a sitting legislator turning confidential informant and setting up her colleagues should give us pause.

This wasn’t even the first infiltration of the legislative branch practiced by local prosecutors. Another lawmaker, Bronx assemblyman Nelson Castro, turns out to have been merrily taping his Albany colleagues for years, also to bail himself out of some legal troubles. His recordings snared assembly colleague Eric Stevenson. One can only imagine what the Albany washrooms are like these days with solons ripping open each other’s shirts to see who is piping the news back to the precinct house.

There is certainly a heavy air of corruption hanging over our state legislature, and chronic complaints about it have been a feature of our landscape since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. The part-time legislators have too little to do because power is perversely concentrated in the tyrants of the two chambers, Assembly speaker Silver and the Senate president of the day. Lawmakers don’t even spend much time holding hearings or writing up bills, so there are far too ample opportunities to horse-trade and influence-peddle.

That said, having federal prosecutors planting wires on sitting legislators to get them to turn in their colleagues is a disturbing breach of the wall that should separate our co-equal branches of government. While prosecution of crimes is an appropriate executive function, the potential for abuse in these cases is worrisome. Corruption is certainly common, but it is also inevitable because the legislative function is supposed to include defense of constituent interests. When prosecutors eager for high-profile cases are allowed or encouraged to go fishing there, it threatens to undermine the already flimsy influence of the sovereign people over our state (and State).

No one will rush to the defense of state pols, whose reputation has been in the gutter since forever, so that makes them easy targets. But authoritarian states and tinpot dictators of all sorts love to trash ‘politicians’ as innately corrupt and self-serving to thereby justify their own ‘non-political’ monopoly on the levers of power. We need look no further than the Chinese or Russian kleptocracies to see how easily anti-corruption drives can be used by factions in their internal power struggles, especially when the entire system is built on fudging the rules. When everyone is forced to play the game, it’s easy to accuse an enemy of stealing because it’s pretty much always true.

That’s bad enough, but the ongoing prosecutions involving city comptroller John Liu’s campaign for mayor are even more upsetting. We’ve heard endlessly about his backers’ illicit bundling of contributions in support of the first viable Asian candidate in the city’s history, and the rules, such as they are, should be enforced. (Bloomberg, of course, never had to worry about them because he has a bank account with $20 billion in it.) But we hear much less about how relentlessly undercover agents pestered the Liu team with offers to do the illegal deals, the pounced when the operatives went along. A cynic might even conclude that there were powerful forces at work eager to cut Liu down to size.

It’s doubly annoying when one thinks of all the blatant criminality afoot in this city just a few blocks south in the financial district where federal and state prosecutors have followed the Obama Administration lead and taken a hands-off approach. Much easier and more career-building to set one’s sights on discredited Albany midgets and free-lance petty hustlers, bag a few indictments and trumpet oneself as a defender of the long-suffering cynical citizen who hates ‘politics’.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The gentle czar

This week we heard that Obama thinks the Guantánamo dungeons ‘need to be closed’ as if he had nothing to do with their remaining open.

This is classic Obama, and it seems to be working wonderfully, both for him and for the government’s continued mission creep into a blatantly authoritarian state. The pattern goes like this: Obama represents some worthy goal, attracts massive popular support for pursuing it, then is oddly incompetent at pushing the agenda forward until he is finally stymied by teabagger/howling nutjob intransigence.

We’ve seen the pattern repeatedly in the health insurance reform, financial regulation, and a dozen other issues. This week it was Guantánamo and the continued languishing in the animal cages of men not only enver charged with a crime but, in many cases, cleared for release as ‘not dangerous’. (I guess actually saying ‘not guilty of anything’ would be too much to ask.)

If you ask most liberals or Obama voters, they’ll blame the Republicans for this state of affairs. At their most critical, they’ll admit that Obama is either weak, a poor strategist or naïve.

By contrast, I think Obama is extremely smart, sophisticated and not shy at all when he wants to go after something or someone. The apparent buckling to the Lindsey Grahams on all sorts of issues like the Cuban tiger cages isn’t the result of a foolish misreading of the political possibilities but a perfectly accurate one.

While it’s possible Obama has a deathly fear of offending conservatives, a simpler explanation is that he just does not want to do anything that they are determined to resist. By allowing them to rant, rave and mobilize their supporters, he gets to look reasonable while bowing to their wishes.

What if this pattern were not a bug of his governing approach but a feature? What if Obama is not just proposing to start slashing away at Social Security because he wants to win progressive concessions from the right wing but because he wants to slash away at Social Security?

It’s not as if Obama is hesitant when, for example, he wishes to pursue drone warfare in secret, persecute whistleblowers with espionage indictments or provide cover for his banker friends like Jamie Dimon. Assured of silent acquiescence or encouragement from the Neanderthals, Obama goes ahead with elan.

I think we can pretty much guarantee that approval for the planet-destroying Keystone Pipeline will be forthcoming from the Obama White House, along with a ‘compromise’ deal to encourage further fracking for natural gas.

So is it better that O is president and not Mitt Romney? Probably, given that all these disasters would be happening anyway without even the promise of tiny victories like the end of discrimination against gays in the military.

But we pay a price for having this faker in charge: we think things aren’t so bad because the head guy is not completely, manifestly insane. That’s superficially true, but the crazies are calling the shots nonetheless.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bangladesh, corporate murder and the race to the bottom

At least 400 people were slaughtered in the collapse of a multi-story sweatshop in Bangladesh this week, and the thug who owned it is quite properly a prime candidate for lynching in the public square. The news showed him being taken out of the courtroom wearing a police helmet and bulletproof vest.

But commentaries on this horrific incident are falling short. Yes, it’s true that the rush of textile jobs to China ended because Chinese workers, despite being forbidden to organize, are now attracting higher wages. And yes, Bangladesh was the next stop on Sweatshop Highway because people there are even more desperate to get a meal and therefore dutifully sewed clothes for Walmart, Children’s Place, Dress Barn and Bennetton for $65 a month, forced to gamble every day that they would actually survive and manage to go home at night to ‘enjoy’ it.

We’re really whistling in the dark, however, if we buy the permitted wisdom on this crime, which is that poor Bangladesh has to do some ‘catching up’ to the rest of us civilized folks on things like the rule of law, construction codes and worker protections. That is one load of screaming crap. While we pontificate grandiosely about how backward those dark people are, Obama and his corporate gang are doing everything in their power to block Bangladesh and a dozen other Asian countries from EVER establishing humane workplaces for their long-suffering millions.

As Bill Black, a former regulator and professor of economics at UM-Kansas City, points out, what happened in Bangladesh is not a weakness in the system; it’s a built-in feature:

The Road to Bangladesh is criminogenic. As firms are forced by “free trade” to force lower wages on their workers if they wish to stay competitive with their competitors who manufacture goods in nations like Bangladesh and as firms in Bangladesh engage in the same competition to constrain wages, the result can be murderous. The least ethical firms that are most willing to steal from their employees and place their lives and safety at risk in the workplace gain market share can produce a “Gresham’s dynamic” in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the workplace.

A Georgetown University professor piously asserted Wednesday night on ‘The News Hour’ that Bangladesh is ruled by a crass mafia that enjoys seamless crossover links between business and the state. That is true enough, although given that the so-called developed world includes Italy, I wonder how far it is safe to throw those particular stones. But it was a telling omission that this ‘free-trade expert’ had nothing to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership being cooked up by the Washington elites under Obama that would systematically destroy any attempts by Bangladeshi workers to protect themselves.

As numerous commentators have been warning for months, the trade package now being negotiated under conditions of military secrecy (a commercial agreement, mind you, not a defense treaty) may include measures to establish supranational ‘dispute resolution’ entities that could easily trump labor and environmental laws on the grounds that a country’s legislation might restrict that unspeakably bullshit concept, ‘Free Trade’. If this sounds incredible, it should; but it could happen behind closed doors at the secret talks, then get shoved down deeply willing congressional throats.

The idea that a commercial treaty could be used to dismantle environmental, regulatory, employment and intellectual property laws by giving huge powers to an obscure bureaucracy should surprise no one paying attention, especially given the role of unelected Eurocrats in putting Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland and Spain under the banker boot. It is the ultimate expression of the democratic state’s replacement by corporate oligarchy, and it’s already been tested on the Mexicans via NAFTA with terrifying results.

Once in place, the ‘free-trade’ coup will accelerate the race to the bottom by which the most corrupt and ruthless, the corporate bosses least interested in worker safety and most ingenious in extracting the last drop of blood from them will emerge triumphant by squeezing out any remaining law-abiding institutions through the relentless laws of the capitalist marketplace.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I talked back to NY1

I was listening to NY1 yesterday morning, the 24-hour cable news station for New York, which is owned by the NY Times. The announcer referred to the Jason Collins story by saying that Collins had ‘admitted’ he was gay. That set me off, so instead of merely ranting at the TV, I wrote an email to the station. This was it:

> To: News tips and corrections
> From: Tim Frasca
> E-mail: tfrasca@yahoo.com
> Comment: Dear Pat Carroll: Jason Collins did not "admit" he was gay, he "announced" it. You admit to something you did wrong. Do you "admit" to being married to a woman?

To my surprise and delight, I got this reply an hour later:

Thank you for your email. You are absolutely correct. The story is being changed.

Dan Jacobson
News Director

Talking back to the television is hardly novel. But to have it answer! That's very cool. And answer politely?! Remarkable.