Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I''m Back. After nearly three years in California, it's time to crank up the blog.

Since September 2012, we've been in California.  Currently were on a lovely 10 acre plot.  We can see no homes around us (though they're there).  It seems like we're completely on our own in this beautiful countryside.  We've had enough to do so that I came to ignore this unfortunately named blog.  That's going to change.  This is the warning.  More to come soon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Americans: Awash In Spin

Americans: Awash In Spin

By Paul Craig Roberts

October 28, 2011 "
Information Clearing House" - I have come to the conclusion that Big Brother’s subjects in George Orwell’s 1984 are better informed than Americans.

Americans have no idea why they have been at war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa for a decade. They don’t realize that their liberties have been supplanted by a Gestapo Police State. Few understand that hard economic times are here to stay.

On October 27, 2011, the US government announced some routine economic statistics, and the president of the European Council announced a new approach to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. The result of these funny numbers and mere words sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its largest monthly rally since 1974, erasing its 2011 yearly loss. The euro rose, putting the European currency again 40% above its initial parity with the US dollar when the euro was introduced.

On National Public Radio a half-wit analyst declared, emphatically, that the latest US government statistics proved that the recovery was in place and that there was no danger whatsoever of a double-dip recession. And half-brain economists predicted a better tomorrow.

Europe is happy because the European private banks, the creditors of the European governments, have agreed to eat 50% of Greece’s sovereign debt and to be recapitalized by public money handed to them by the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, thinks that Greece’s debt is the only sovereign debt to be written down and that the debt of Italy, Spain, and Portugal will somehow be bailed out through other means, including a Chinese contribution to the EFSF rescue fund. Obviously, if all EU sovereign debt has to be cut by 50% as well, the rescue fund would not be up to the job.

For our corrupt financial markets, any news that can be spun as good news can send stocks up. But what are the facts?

For facts one has to turn to serious people, not to the presstitute media. Among those who give us real facts is John Williams of shadowstats.com. In his October 27 report, Williams exposes the happy second quarter 2011 economic growth figure of 2.5% as nonsense. Every other economic indicator contradicts the spin.

For example, personal consumption is reported to have increased 1.7%, but this surge in consumption took place despite a 1.7% collapse in consumer disposable income! In other words, if there was an increase in personal consumption, it come from drawing down savings or from incurring higher consumer debt.

A country’s consumers cannot forever draw down savings or go deeper into debt. For an economy to recover, there must be growth in consumer income. That growth is nowhere to be seen in the US. A large percentage of the goods and services sold to Americans by American corporations are now produced abroad by foreign labor. Thus, Americans no longer received incomes from the production of the goods and services that they consume. The American consumer market is on its way out.

The Dow Jones rose 339.51 points on the phony good news, but consumer sentiment is in the basement. John Williams reports that “consumer confidence hit the lowest levels ever recorded in 2008 and 2009” and that consumer confidence has now “fallen back to that 2008 level.” But the stock market boomed. Somehow a population 23% unemployed with debt up to its eyeballs is going to spark an economic recovery.

Recovery can only happen in the delusional world created for us by the concentrated media. No longer permitted to utter one world of truth, the presstitutes proclaim non-existent recoveries and weapons of mass destruction and demonize Washington’s chosen opponents.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has distracted Americans from the much worst crisis in their country. After two decades of exporting US manufacturing and middle class jobs, and after a decade of consumer debt growth that has resulted in millions of foreclosed homeowners and massive credit card and student loan debt that cannot be paid, consumers have no income growth or borrowing capacity with which to fuel an economy based on consumer demand.

European banks, already ruined by purchases of Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s AAA ratings of junk derivatives, now find themselves threatened by sovereign debt. Greece’s debt crisis, caused with Goldman Sachs’ help in hiding the true debt of the country as was done for Enron, has brought to light that Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, in addition to Greece, have more debt than the governments can service.

In the EU, unlike the US and UK which have their own central banks that can create new money to bail out the over-indebted governments, the EU central bank is prohibited by treaty from printing money in order to purchase bonds from member states that cannot be redeemed.

Regardless of the treaty prohibition, the EU central bank has been lending Greece the money to pay its bond holders. The imposed austerity that is part of the deal created political instability in Greece.

Now that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has announced a 50% write-off by private banks of Greek sovereign debt, can the same treatment be denied Portugal, Italy, and Spain?

The European Central Bank is following the lead of the Federal Reserve and creating new money to bail out debt. The cost will be paid in inflation and flight from the euro and the dollar. As an indication of the future, despite the positive spin on the news and the rise in US stocks, on October 27 the Japanese yen rose to a new high against the US dollar.

Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ohio's War on the Middle Class

Ohio's War on the Middle Class

Burning row houses behind a church in Columbus, Ohio.
Wherein I go home, watch public servants get axed, visit the warehouse of unbearable sorrow, hang with jobless thirtysomethings living in abandoned homes, and consider whether my generation is flat-out screwed.
The decor of Erin and Anthony Rodriguez's guest room could really only happen in the United States. In fact, a European did lay eyes on it one time, and his superior brow furrowed instantly with disbelief as he said, "What…is THAT?" It isn't just the powder-pinkness of the third bedroom in their Gahanna, Ohio, home. It's more the hot pink stars stenciled along the ceiling border, and that between them alternate the words "Katie" and "an American Girl." Erin, who's 30, Ohio born and raised, Ohio for life, can't decide herself if she should be excited—I mean, it's not not funny—or mildly embarrassed to show it to people. Nobody named Katie lives here. This paint scheme was left by the previous owners. On the early June afternoon when I drop my suitcase by the bed, Erin exclaims, "You can be our Katie!"
We've been roommates before. But that was back when we went to Ohio State, from which we graduated almost 10 years ago. Now Erin has a grown-up job as a public school teacher and a husband who's a public information specialist for the Ohio agency that keeps tabs on local utilities and makes sure they don't go all Enron on consumers. They have a baby, Jocelyn, who is extremely cute and well behaved, as well as a gray cat named Princess Vespa and a black cat named Barack Obama. For a long time, my contact with Erin has been limited mostly to occasional phone check-ins during which we brief each other on, like, how adulthood is going. Now I'm taking up temporary residence here not as a fun former roomie but as a reporter. I write Erin a rent check for a third of the mortgage—$430. She says she's really happy to see me, even though she knows the grown-up reporter reason I'm here is that she and her husband are state employees, so something bad is bound to happen to them in the next month. That $430, she tells me, might make an important difference in their finances soon.
If the sign at the edge of town is to be believed, Gahanna is one of the Top 100 Places to Live. The Columbus suburb is a lot like the Cleveland suburb I grew up in. Green. Sprawly. Solidly middle-class, chock-full of shopping centers. And Erin and Anthony's house is a lot like a lot of houses around it, a modest split-level with a big front yard and a deck in the back. In the wedding pictures on the walls, Erin's got short blond hair. Currently, her locks are chin length and closer in color to the chocolate corduroy couch on which we sit while, on the floor before us, Jocelyn makes herself the center of a four-foot radius of toys. Erin's beaming in the photos, and that's pretty much what she usually looks like, pretty teeth bared, shiny cheeks. She still feels warm and open even as her face creases with anxiety and she says, "When we bought our house, we basically wiped out our savings." The only reason there's any money left in the bank at all is because of the rebate from President Obama's first-time homebuyer's credit program. Because the house, like most people's houses, isn't paid for, and neither is Anthony's car, like many people's cars, the prospect that Anthony might have only three more paychecks coming is making Erin "not fine," though she's "trying to be fine." When we were in college, we all had these fabulous plans. Or at least plans to be supersecure once we found careers. To make a living and then…live. Erin blames the governor for her doubts now. She calls him some unsavory names.
A lot of people are doing that. A couple of weeks ago, a poll showed the approval ratings of John Kasich, the newly elected Republican governor, at 33 percent. Once upon a time Kasich was a United States congressman, before he left in 2001 to become a managing director at Lehman Brothers, where he worked until it imploded and destroyed a bunch of lives in 2008. On the side, he hosted his own show on Fox News, as well as frequently guest-hosting The O'Reilly Factor and appearing on the Sean Hannity vehicles. He took office in January, and his approval ratings have been abysmal since March, something to do, no doubt, with the release of his proposed budget for fiscal years 2012-13.
Anthony Rodriguez's agency—which counsels Ohio utility consumers—faces devastating cuts. 

Anthony Rodriguez's agency—which counsels Ohio utility consumers—faces devastating cuts.To Erin's specific dismay, the governor's plan slashes $3.1 billion from an estimated $58.8 billion state budget largely by cutting funding to city governments and services. Anthony's state agency, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC)—which advocates for customers in complaints, regulatory hearings, and court cases involving utility companies—is slated to lose 51 percent. The Department of Education loses 10.2 percent. A local think tank estimates that 51,000 state jobs are at stake. Local unions are panicking that the public employees who remain will have little control over their own futures, since Kasich effectively killed collective bargaining in a bill called SB 5 shortly after he took office. This is the manifestation of his campaign promise to "shine up the state." In one of his campaign videos, he says that his parents used to say, "Johnny, make sure the place that you were is a little better off because of the fact that you were there." He won the 2010 election, barely, on a job creation platform. His budget is called "The Jobs Budget."
But for the differing accents and college football allegiances, this could be Florida, or Michigan, or Wisconsin. They've all got their own new Republican governors facing protests over public-sector job cuts or voter ID bills or union dismantling or destruction of public transportation projects or unemployment benefits. And those governors all have plummeting approval ratings.
A layoff might knock Erin back an income class or two. But not everyone she knows has a spare income class to fall.
Erin and Jocelyn have been going to these protests in Columbus. Neither one of us was really an activist or even especially politically minded in college, but lately, a phone conversation that starts about these amazing ice cream bars ends with news about what Kasich is doing or some kind of fretting, like she's doing right now. With the news that Anthony will likely lose his job, she's panicked that she missed the open enrollment period for her health insurance plan because she assumed, with the faith that professionals tend to default to when they're employed, that no one in her family was about to be jobless. All three Rodriguezes are currently on Anthony's insurance, because it's much better, and cheaper. Luckily, it's not too late to switch. By the end of the week, she'll drive to the appropriate office to drop off the paperwork. And then she'll cry in the car for an hour while Jocelyn's asleep in the backseat, which she'll confess to me when I tell her she's handling her "freaking out" well.
Erin recognizes that she could do a lot worse; if her nightmare of losing her house ever did come close to a reality, her parents would likely rescue her, she knows, as much as she would hate to have to take their money. But her friend, for example, who had a baby at the same time, has been surviving with her husband on his teaching-assistant salary only because they fell into a situation with free rent. Now they have to move, and they have no idea what they're going to do. And a parent of several of Erin's former students had to choose between sending his kid to college and working, since the only job he could get didn't pay enough to cover tuition—and financial aid would be available only if he were unemployed. Erin acknowledges that having to downgrade to a less-great health insurance plan is the sort of thing the upwardly mobile liberals of our generation like to refer to on the internet as "white people problems." A layoff might knock her back an income class or two. But not everyone she knows has a spare income class to fall.
Now, Erin eyes her 11-month-old when she says, "Thank God I have a job. And a job with insurance. Anthony's applying for jobs like crazy, but he's not getting any bites."
That's what he does when he gets home. It's late, almost dark out, at a time of year when the days are longest. There was a public meeting tonight about an impending rate hike from American Electric Power, the local utility, and he was there to look out for the OCC and consumers. Still, after he arrives in a tie and glasses only to get back to work on his laptop, he continuously flashes a grin that demands to be described as toothy. At his work, people are getting ready to move their desks because the office is consolidating from two floors to one; the state Senate has proposed softening the OCC's cuts from 51 to 34 percent, but a lot of layoffs are still on the table. No one knows exactly what will happen when the budget is reconciled and signed at the end of the month, and right now Anthony is working on a freelance consulting project and looking for more of those and another job while the rest of us watch reality TV.
A dunk tank fundraiser in Mt. Sterling, which dissolved its police force due to lack of cashA dunk-tank fundraiser in Mt. Sterling, which dissolved its police force due to lack of cash"We're in that mode," Anthony says of his 81 coworkers, shaking his head, "where we're like, 'What the hell are we going to do?'" And he can fit in only a few minutes of searching and overtime, because Jocelyn misses him and won't stop pointing at him, so he picks her up to pace the carpet with her head against his shoulder, singing a soothing little song.

At 4:41 in the morning, Barack Obama finds his cat-magic way through a closed door and enters my bedroom. The Rodriguez house is as dark as the sky. But within an hour, lights are on, Jocelyn's burbling, and Anthony's walking around in shorts. As I am somewhat unaccustomed to this waking time, I'm looking sad about it under the kitchen fluorescents, I guess, since Anthony walks in and laughs at me.
It's one of Erin's last days of teaching before school lets out for the summer. It's a 40-minute drive out to her rural district, plus a quick stop to drop Jocelyn off at day care. Out here, there are a lot of long, empty roads and farmland. Out here, the public schools spend nearly 20 percent less per student than the national average. It's so hot outside that a school in a city nearby actually had to shut down the other day when its air conditioning broke, but Erin's middle school never has had AC. Her seventh- and eighth-graders are restless, sweating. She spends even more time than usual vying for their attention, especially in the computer class that has access to internet games.
I'm exhausted just watching her by third period, but she loves, loves, loves her job as a writing teacher, she tells me when we lock the door between classes so she can pump breast milk. Still, she'd prefer to be a stay-at-home mom to Jocelyn for a while. She's heartbroken every time she leaves her at day care, maybe even more than she is over the prospect of becoming a single-income family.
The workers on this shift all make about $9 an hour. That's a dollar less than I made at the moving company when I started there in 1998.
Actually, she's not totally free from worrying about becoming a no-income family; the Ohio Education Association says Kasich's budget will cost 10,000 public education jobs—nearly 5 percent of such jobs in the state. Already, Erin's school recently laid off a couple of teachers and cut a few more to half time. While her salary after eight years of teaching would normally be protected by a long-standing experience- and education-based pay schedule, a provision in the budget would require many schools—including hers—to move to a more merit-based pay system. Which sounds great and all, but what it means is this: Unless organizers get 231,147 signatures to put a repeal of anti-collective-bargaining SB 5 on the ballot in November, and then voters indeed vote to repeal it, her union will have far less power to help her if her cash-strapped school district decides she should make some arbitrary number of thousands of dollars less.
It's not like she's in it for the money. American middle school teachers work more hours than those in any other leading industrialized nation except one, but they rank near the bottom in terms of pay. Erin knew that going in, but still.
"How many of you have summer jobs?" Erin asks her afternoon batch of about 30 eighth-graders. Lots of them put their hands up. When she asks them how many have jobs because they're working for family farms or businesses, most of those with their hands up keep them raised. Job growth in this county is -0.16 percent. One 14-year-old without those kinds of family connections explains he's been looking, he's looking, but no, he doesn't have a job. When I ask him why, he pauses, surprised for a second, then says, "No jobs to be had."

When Erin and I were in college, I worked summers for a moving company. Before and after jobs, my coworkers and I hung around the cavernous warehouse full of cardboard boxes, the smell of heavy paper landing in the back of our throats in a thick and lingering way.
Erin Rodriguez and daughter Jocelyn.Erin Rodriguez and her daughter JocelynMy college girlfriend now works in a warehouse, too, as a supervisor—in a quieter, sadder warehouse, where people ship merchandise for big online companies everyone has heard of but that can't be named here. The company running it, which I also can't name, is a temp agency that provides staffing for a nationwide logistics contractor that handles getting those internet purchases from their origins—many of them Chinese factories—to people's doorsteps.
My ex's name is not Susie, but let's call her that so we don't get her in trouble. The first stop on the tour she gave me of her workplace: workers standing at tables, taking items out of a bulk box and putting them into smaller boxes with shipping labels on them. And...that's pretty much it. For efficiency purposes, every step of every process here has been broken down and separated out so that almost everyone does the exact same motion over and over. Like the people at the next stop, who are standing at tables and putting the labels on the boxes. Over and over. Sweating.
"It's hot in here," I say unhelpfully. It's 90 degrees outside, and the Midwestern humidity concentrates itself in this giant metal-and-cement cube. "Don't you guys have air conditioning?"
"We do, but it's controlled by the big guys in the suits." It is not, Susie adds, equally unpleasant for everyone. We pass by the loading docks, where a semi is backed up to the open door. A guy standing inside the cramped metal trailer bed catches taped-up, ready-to-ship boxes off the conveyor belt and stacks them in the truck. "That job sucks," she says. She shakes her head. "There's no circulation in there." She says in the winter, everybody in the warehouse wears hats and coats because it's freezing inside.
The workers on this shift all make about $9 an hour. That's a dollar less than I made at the moving company when I started there in 1998, but it's a lot more than the state minimum wage of $7.40 and way more than nothing, which is what 8.6 percent of Ohio workers currently earn.
These workers are all hired as temps by Susie's company. If they make it 90 days, they have the opportunity, in theory, if there's an opening, to become full employees of the logistics company, which means better benefits and about an extra dollar an hour. It has been six months since the logistics company graduated someone here from temp to employee status. At one of the other locations Susie manages, no one has been hired as a real employee for two years. One of the workers in this warehouse has been a temp for a year and a half.

After we walk past workers stuffing inflated plastic air pockets in boxes and a guy continuously taping shut the bottoms of just-made cartons, we go to Susie's office. "Hold on, I gotta fire somebody real quick," she says, picking up the phone. She calls a man who's been working for her for two months. She's sorry, she tells him, but she has to let him go because one of the supervisors caught him talking on the floor. The man, who she thinks is in his late 40s or early 50s, protests that he only asked a new guy where he was from. That's just not the culture, Susie tells him. You know the rules. The logistics company sets them, and she has no choice but to enforce them.
In The Bottoms, just west of downtown Columbus, neighbors paint a mural.In The Bottoms, just west of downtown Columbus, neighbors paint a mural.It does say in the new-employee handout that there are no personal conversations allowed on the warehouse floor. Also, no cell phones are permitted. Like a high school teacher, Susie has a pile of phones she's confiscated in a plastic bowl on her desk. Two sick days are allotted per year, and workers must be excused to take them without penalty; after that, the temp is terminated, doctor's note or no. Every temp is allowed one 30-minute break per day, and it must be taken on company premises. Every temp is required to have an ID badge. The cost of this badge, more than an hour's worth of wages, is deducted from the temp's first paycheck.
I haven't finished the orientation packet when Susie picks up the phone to hear instructions from another supervisor that I can tell are bad news for a worker. "You're not really about to fire somebody else, are you?" I ask.
"You just fired somebody less than 10 minutes ago."
"Yeah, but he's been taking too many breaks."
"Are you kidding? Is anybody going to ask him why he's taking breaks? Maybe he's sick."
"No, they said he's been doing it all week. He's a bigger dude, so they think he's doing it"—the break room and the bathroom are in the air-conditioned part of the warehouse where the suits have offices—"because it's too hot for him on the floor."
"You know, you used to be able to survive blue collar," my father says. "Now, the blue-collar guy, they just crush the life out of him. It's very depressing."
Later, when I tell my father about this, he groans. Coincidentally, he works with the CEOs of logistics companies sometimes. "Somebody did studies and spreadsheets and crunched those numbers," he says, "and figured out that the cheapest way to get that job done is to treat people like that." Which is important, because "the profit margins on those contracts are razor thin." Naturally. A lot of the internet retailers' merchandise is nearly worthless—Ice Princess Star-Shaped Ice Cube Tray with Straws, anthropomorphic stuffed bacon toys—and is sold for nearly nothing, often with free or reduced-price shipping.
"When I was a kid working in a warehouse, I made $10 an hour," my father says.
That can't be right, I tell him. As proof that he's mistaken, I point out that that's the same wage warehouses pay now.
"Exactly," he says. "That's the problem. The cost of living has gone way up, but wages have just been"—and here he makes sort of a Tupperware-closing sound—"locked in." In 1980, he got his first professional job with a high school diploma in Cleveland for $28,000 a year. In 2007, I got my first professional job with a master's degree in San Francisco for $27,000. A hundred dollars in my pocket today was the equivalent of $274 in his then. "And wages are exactly the same." It's not always true, of course, that the actual wages for the same job are actually the same. But it is true that in 2010 the average full-time male worker earned $47,715. In 1980, after adjusting for inflation, he earned $46,889.
"When you were six, I was driving a brand new Chevy station wagon and paying $125 a month," he says. "I remember seeing Cadillac commercials on TV saying, 'Drive away today with little money down and $450 a month,' and I remember thinking, 'I'll never be able to afford that.' And today that's a totally common car payment. We lived in a three-bedroom condo with two full baths for $280 a month. Nothing"—except the kind of crap boxed up in Susie's warehouse—"is cheaper now than it was then."
My father did ultimately lease a string of Cadillacs when I was older. Now he drives a Lexus SUV. Now he works at a firm that companies hire to headhunt the managers and VPs and CEOs they need, generally people in the $130,000 range but often much more. At the moment, my father has been tapped by a company to find the right candidate for a position that pays $600,000. Last year he placed someone who made $1.4 million annually, and another who made $1.5 mil. He bills enough that at the office, where I've had occasion to use the nap room, his is one of the faces etched in bronze on the plaques for people who've earned the firm a million or more.
"You know, you used to be able to survive blue collar," he says. "Now, the blue-collar guy, they just crush the life out of him. It's very depressing." Unemployment has doubled since the beginning of the recession, and home equity has fallen by more than a third, but Wall Street profits are up more than 700 percent. Profits at his firm, which is part of a global group with more than 4,000 employees, have remained steady. "Recessions," as my father sometimes puts it, "don't affect people like me."
It's June 16, the day after Erin's birthday, and even from inside my pink room, I can hear the stress in her voice as she says into the phone, "Why are you yelling at me?"
When she slumps to the floor in the hallway outside my door, she tells me Anthony lost his job. The budget is still being reconciled in committee, but even the best-case version slashes OCC funding by more than 30 percent. And the cut looks mostly like a favor to utility companies, rather than a money-saving measure; the OCC isn't funded out of the state's general revenue fund but rather via a surcharge on utility companies. It's one of several exciting bits of a non-cost-cutting agenda slipped into the cost-cutting budget, which also, for example, makes it extremely difficult to get an abortion. Anthony has been given two weeks' notice. After that, their income will be cut in half.
Erin and I frown quietly at each other for a while. "How are you doing?" I ask.
"I don't know."
Jocelyn crawls across her knees.
"What are we gonna do, monkey?" Erin asks her, then, with effort, puts on a goo-goo voice. "I'm going to have to start entering you in pageants."
When Anthony comes home, there's a save-the-date card on the dining room table. Erin calls his attention to it, says Kristi and Scott are getting married. The Rodriguezes wouldn't have to travel. But they'd have to bring a present, and Anthony begins to sigh heavily, and Erin says quickly, "We don't have to go; we don't have to talk about it now," at the same time that he says, "Now's not the time." Tonight, while he works on his portfolio, to use in interviews "if I ever get one," he dips into the bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label someone bought them for their wedding.

At the Columbus Metropolitan Library a few days later, there's a career workshop courtesy of Ohio State University's Office of Continuing Education, which doesn't restrict its job services to recent alumni, or even to alumni at all. "A lot of the people I'm working with have been laid off or find their field is shrinking," adviser Jeff Robek tells the audience. In 2008, librarians became overwhelmed with requests for job search assistance. So now all of CML's 20 branches run assistance programs. For as long as is feasible, anyway: Ohio libraries are in line for a 5 percent cut in Kasich's budget, in addition to the 30 percent they lost under the previous governor, while demand for services went up more than 20 percent during the same period. CML's website is the second most visited in the whole county, and the Job Help Center page is one of the most visited within it. As Robek speaks, yet another presentation is going on in a different conference room, about LinkedIn. Just before that, there was a volunteer available to help guide people through online applications. "I work with a lot of older job seekers," Robek says to a crowd ranging from twentysomethings to the AARP set. He is most perfectly Midwestern, with clean manners and khakis. "Fifty-plus, sixty-plus."Career counselor Jeff Robek says in this job market, employers can demand and get whatever they want.Career counselor Jeff Robek says in this job market, employers can demand and get whatever they want.
In the middle of this Monday afternoon, Robek warns us that it's a hirer's market: "With the job market as tight as it is right now, employers are picky." He has a slide with statistics reinforcing the adage that it's not what you know, but who you know: 70 percent of jobs come from networking. Only 11 percent of people land a position through staffing agencies, 5 percent through sending résumés, and 14 percent through advertised jobs. The latter is how Anthony has been applying with increased fervor. The other day he had an interview, his first after sending out dozens of applications. Though he was lucky to get that far with 150 total applicants, he's still up against 11 other interviewees. He put on a purple shirt, and I complimented him on it. "I don't like to be bland," he said.
The experienced laid-off like Anthony, plus the "encore career" crowd, which seems to be a euphemism for professionals who are old but can't afford to retire, are creating challenges for the branch of Ohio State's career offices that tries to place another huge population: OSU graduates. Stephanie Ford, the director of the university's Arts and Sciences Career Services Office, explains to me that the shrinking number of jobs and swelling number of applicants are "a double whammy" for Ohio State's 6,702 graduating seniors. "Overall," she says, "it's harder to find students employment in their field" than it was when I graduated 10 years ago. I can't tell if I feel worse for them, for myself and my fellow 2002 graduates who might be competing with them, for the warehouse workers whose jobs they might be forced to take because they can't get "real" jobs, or for the encore career people who are up against the lot of us but have more responsibilities, probably less energy, and the handicap of cultural ageism. Christ.
According to Robek, there used to be a general rule in job searching: For every $10,000 in annual salary earned, it took one month of looking. I schedule an advising session with him, and he explains that nobody has fingered the standard for the new economic order yet, but anecdotally, what used to take 3 to 6 months often now takes 6 to 12. "Or even longer sometimes!" he says.
Given the state of the journalism industry, statistically it would surprise no one if I got laid off. Indeed, fairly recently, Robek advised a local journalist alum who was about my age. He had worked in media for years but lost his job due to cutbacks. He searched and searched for work. Committed to staying a reporter, in the end, Robek tells me, he moved to DC and took an unpaid internship. This is a terrible story, and at this point in the economy and the industry, I have concerns about whether I could even compete for that internship. If the most recent batch of interns at my own magazine is any indication, college graduates are listening to the advice people like Ford give them about going up against people like me: Build rock-solid résumés. Among them, Mother Jones' eight interns speak Farsi, French, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Thai and have worked at PBS's Frontline—two of them—NPR, NBC, New York Press, the Miami Herald, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Sierra, Bangkok Post, the American Prospect, the ACLU, the Federal Trade Commission, and for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
"If the field you're working in has no opportunities, it might be time to find something else you're passionate about," Robek tells me. A career compatibility chart shows me to have some important values for moving to France and becoming a goat farmer—tradition, practicality, common sense—but to be lacking in crucial skills like mechanical competence. Robek says that to find a job in a new field, I'd need to do a lot of information gathering, talking to current professionals about what it's really like before stalking sites like Monster and LinkedIn to try to find a way in on the ground level. Which, as it does for many of Robek's clients, would likely involve going back to school, especially since I very pragmatically spent two years of my life obtaining a master's degree in fine arts. In an employer's market, Robek emphasizes, employers can demand exactly whatever they want.
Roz Gadd (in pink), a retired teacher, and another volunteer collect signatures to repeal SB 5.Roz Gadd (in pink), a retired teacher, and another volunteer collect signatures to repeal SB 5.Back at the Rodriguezes', I'm not sure how long I've been sitting on my bed staring down an encroaching panic when voices call up from the family room downstairs.
"Katie!" they are yelling. It's time for the weekly family tradition of watching MasterChef. Erin and I will gently attempt and fail to distract Jocelyn from pulling the cord out of Anthony's laptop ("Could you not, uh," Anthony will say, waving her baby fingers away, and when she makes a mad-baby face, apologize: "I know. I'm sorry. But I'm kinda trying to find a job.") or throwing pieces of his portfolio on the floor or taking pages of a job description he's studying in each hand and repeatedly slamming them together. Anthony announces he's just been rejected for a job he applied for—at Ohio State, as it happens—without even making it to the interview stage. Susie calls and says he can work for her if he gets desperate. She's hired five of her friends straight out of college to work that shit warehouse job while they struggle to find something they went to school for. Though it isn't much, it is still a favor. She has applications from hundreds of people who want it; "I could fire every person in here right now" without costing her bosses a dime of lost profits, she told me when I visited. There's no need for the logistics clients to invest in a better or more sustainable work culture. Quite literally, her workers are as disposable as the products they're shipping.

I'm not too young to remember Cleveland as a place of industrial productivity. Or rather, I remember the transition between that time and now, when a lot of those factories were getting shut down, when a laid-off steel worker started yelling at me after I knocked on his door to collect for some nonprofit. Now when I come home my father shows me big blank spots on the bank of the Cuyahoga River where they tore down an entire entertainment district, a thriving strip of restaurants and bars where I used fake IDs. The population implosion that revved back up again a decade ago hasn't stopped. The city's down to its lowest number of people since 1900.

The Cleveland neighborhood my sister lives in has its own abandonment issues. After I drive north from Columbus to visit her in her new place, she tells me to look for the rusted-out couch frame on the porch. It's there to keep her pit bull from wandering out into the yard, Jessica says when I arrive. She's got less of an explanation for what exactly happened to the kitchen, with its walls all ripped up. It's not her house, after all. She just squats here with three other people since the owners were foreclosed on and walked away.
A Labor Day event in downtown Columbus.A Labor Day event in downtown Columbus"There's not much to see," she says of the spacious two-story. In lieu of furniture, the family room has piles of discarded clothes and boxes along the walls and in the corners. Upstairs in the bedrooms there are mattresses on the floor, marker scrawlings on the walls (NIETZSCHE SUCKS), clothes hanging from a pull-up bar jerry-rigged out of wood and bolted to the ceiling. One of the downstairs rooms has a couch in it, and that's where Jessica's boyfriend, Randal, is sitting.
This house used to belong to his parents. They bought it 10 years ago. Now, though it's big and has nice albeit filthy wood floors, it's valued at $40,000, which is less than they still owed on it, so they packed up and moved out last year. By that time, Randal had been looking for jobs as a line cook for months with no luck. Some of the positions he applied for had more than 100 other applicants. Eventually he gave up on the prospect of using his skills and shot for low-paying jobs like dishwashing. He applied all over town, but gave up on that, too, shortly after he asked the person in charge of hiring for a $7.25-an-hour job if they'd gotten a lot of applicants, and the guy said, "Oh, yeah. Seventy."
Jess and Randal, 35 and 33, respectively, have been living here since September of last year. During the day, she puts on a nice white shirt and serves people $20 appetizers at a restaurant in Shaker Heights, one of the ritziest Cleveland suburbs and once the wealthiest city in the country. At night, she goes back home to an area she calls "the hood." Crime statistics seem to support this description; Cleveland is currently ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America.
While we're sitting around chatting, the back door slams and footsteps approach. "Is someone HERE?" my sister asks, and there's so much edge in her voice that I instinctively brace myself, and we both start to get to our feet. There's the pit bull, but he's a pussycat. A 23-year-old unemployed and strong-looking Navy vet who was discharged for depression and anxiety also lives here, but he is very, very high. Anyway, it's just Randal's sister stopping by to say hello. "Do you want to see my gun?" my sister asks me, and she takes me upstairs to show me where she keeps it in her room and explains she's got fucking throwing knives in her car.
Ohio is the heart of the country. "We need people to stay here, and to come here," Kathleen Clyde tells me. But, "Who's gonna wanna move here?"
Before this, they were renting half of a duplex at a reasonable $400 a month. But Randal has been out of work for a long time now, and there's not much point in paying rent when this house is just standing here empty. It's something of a trend to occupy abandoned homes in the post-housing-crash world, and Randal's sort of a pro at this point. His grandmother also lost her house a little while back. She was disabled; when she worked at an auto plant in her 30s, a piece of sheet metal that flew off a rack sliced off both her feet. She took out a mortgage on her paid-for house after her husband died; later, she couldn't keep up with the payments and had to leave. It was foreclosed on and emptied, but Randal stayed on. "They probably won't get around to coming and throwing anybody out for a long time," he says. "At the rate houses foreclose around here, they can't keep up."
It doesn't matter anyway. My sister and Randal and the vet are all talking about getting out of town, moving someplace where there might be opportunities—the West, Oregon. They'll become part of Ohio's population problem. Growth here over the last decade was 1.6 percent. Nationwide, it was 9.7 percent.
"We need people to stay here, and to come here," Kathleen Clyde tells me over coffee back in Columbus. This is a battleground state. It's the heart of the country, geographically—nay, spiritually—and the next presidential election probably won't be won without it. But, as Clyde says, "Who's gonna wanna move here?" At 32, Democratic state Rep. Clyde is the youngest elected woman in the Ohio legislature, charming, exceedingly tall, of the same age and politics as most of the people I know but actually working in politics. She's not just stressing over the recession. She's talking about a sea change. "It really feels like Ohio's at an important crossroads," she laments, "and we're headed in the wrong direction." The Ohio General Assembly is passing legislation that allows guns in bars. Drilling in state parks. Giveaways to big businesses. Privatization of the state's revenues (PDF) from liquor sales. A 53 percent cut (PDF) to the Alzheimer's Respite program and an 85 percent cut (PDF) to the Department of Aging. And, simultaneous to the cuts, lawmakers have extended a $1 billion income tax break, 40 percent of which goes to the wealthiest 5 percent of Ohioans, and suspended an estate tax that only applied to the top 10 percent of estates. Ohio, which lost 600,000 private-sector jobs in the first decade of the millennium, where the percentage of working men is the lowest in its recorded history, and where median wages have declined (PDF) more than in any other state since 2000, is about to seriously downsize its public sector too.
Lindsay and her family.Lindsay and her familyBecause many of these policies are being pushed through the Ohio General Assembly by "70-year-olds," Clyde says, because the Ohio House was taken over by Republicans last year, when they were promising to fix the recession's problems with fiscal conservatism, Clyde urges me to move back to my home state and consider going into politics. Because engaging and energizing our generation and the one behind it might be Ohio's only shot.
This is just one more in a long series of highly depressing conversations I've had over the last month. I'm reporting from Ohio, for God's sake, not the Third World, yet still my interviewees are sweating over how they'll manage to survive despite living in the richest country in the history of the world. Because some politicians are passing some greedy and indecent and inhumanely neglectful and inconsiderate laws. "Is it really so dire?" I ask Clyde.
She hesitates. She opens her mouth and winces, before finally saying: "I think it is. Being in this legislature makes it hard to sleep at night."

On a Wednesday in late June, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin Act 10, which stripped most public-sector unions of most of their collective-bargaining rights, went into effect. On the same hot day in Ohio, Erin almost runs down Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman with Jocelyn's stroller.
"I was just trying to shake his hand!" she says breathlessly after regaining control of the unwieldy carriage. And Mayor Coleman was trying to shake hers, and thousands of other people's, standing on the sidelines of a massive parade marching through the capital. Shirts and flags identify the participants as firefighters, transit workers, teachers, electricians, bikers, state troopers; residents of Columbus, Cleveland, Findlay, Toledo; members of the SEIU, UAW, AFL-CIO. A drum line accompanied their chanting: Hey hey. Ho ho. SB 5 has got to go. Workers' rights are human rights. This is what democracy looks like. This swell of people has a delivery for the secretary of state. To keep SB 5 from becoming law and get it on the ballot for repeal in November, they need 231,147 signatures. They are turning in 1.3 million.

"We can't guarantee anything," says a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, the group driving the effort, "but we're confident with the amount of signatures we've collected that we have a lot of support on our side." In polls, Ohioans heavily favor the repeal, and most also say now, just months after the Republican majority they elected to the legislature took office, that if a congressional election took place today, they'd vote for the Democratic candidate—like angry constituents in Florida have hollered for the recall of Rick Scott, and in Michigan, of Rick Snyder. Wisconsin's Walker has an approval rate of 43 percent. Next year, Ohio will indeed be a battleground, one where the GOP finds out how much it can get away with.
After this boy's parents were both laid off, their household income fell from $160,000 to what unemployment benefits provide; they've since divorced, citing financial strain.After this boy's parents were both laid off, their household income fell from $160,000 to what unemployment benefits provide; they've since divorced, citing financial strain.This year, anyway, SB 5 has the potential to be forestalled. Another one of our college friends, Lindsey, is also looking to that for job and wage and general security. She teaches middle school English in rural Logan, about an hour outside Columbus, and she stops by Erin's with her two-month-old one day. After she and Erin have a very lengthy discussion about breast-feeding, they worry together.
"I don't want to take any"—Lindsey's got this lovely southern Ohio drawl, so she says it a little bit like ayny—"money out of our savings" until the repeal passes, or doesn't, this fall. Her and her husband's livelihoods could both depend on the outcome, since he also teaches in the same school district. "We don't know what's gonna happen." Until she knows for sure how it will play out, she won't let her husband buy a couch though they've got two kids now and not enough places to sit.
White people problems. Like that. And that, like the rest of the Americans holding the $873 billion in outstanding student loans, Lindsey and her husband also have to figure student-loan debt into their monthly budget. There's $50,000 of it between them. "We joke that we have to pay $450 a month in loans just to make our crappy teacher pay," she says. Yes. Hilarious, for all of us. Rep. Clyde also mentioned that it's an effort to make her roughly $500-a-month loan payment on her $60,500 legislative salary. And the other day, another college roommate pointed to $120,000 in outstanding loans as the reason she can't leave her law firm, even though she's discovered she doesn't like her profession. When I asked her what she's going to do, she said, "What everybody does. Be a lawyer and hate it until I die."
Another college friend has $120,000 in outstanding loans. Asked what she's going to do, she said, "What everybody does. Be a lawyer and hate it until I die."
Erin and Anthony owe $26,000. They both went to Ohio State, which raised tuition every year we were there, in all but one of the nine years since, and will again this year after its 15 percent cut in the final budget. This debt isn't insignificant for the Rodriguezes, especially coupled with the mortgage and the car payment, but it's quite manageable—if both of them are employed.
At home, the day of the parade, Erin pops into my room. "I'm shaking," she says. Anthony just called. The conference committee reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget adopted the slightly smaller of the proposed massive cuts to the OCC. Kasich would sign it into law the next day. Anthony's boss has given him the news that he is very, very lucky. Forty OCC employees are being laid off. But Anthony's position is now in the 42 that remain.
"He's just really worried about what this year is gonna be like," Erin says, "because they have no money, no support staff." She's worked up, breathing shallow, talking fast. "But I was like, I don't care what your workload is—you have a job."
She sticks a finger into Jocelyn's diaper through the leg hole and, wetness confirmed, takes her to the baby's room next door. On my first day here, I heard Anthony call down from this room to Erin in the family room: "Come here. Fast." She went tearing up the stairs and, when she arrived to find he wanted only to show her how cute their baby was, started to chastise him for making it sound like an emergency, but then they were both looking at the baby on the changing table, and then nobody was mad. Jocelyn's on the table again now, in the jungle-themed room, and Erin is chatting her up like always as she changes her. "Jocelyn, are you so excited that Mommy doesn't have to force you into pageant work now?" she asks. Jocelyn stares at her, the two of them below the window valance printed with happy cartoon monkeys. "Now we can just do it for fun.

Mac McClelland is Mother Jones' human rights reporter, writer of The Rights Stuff, and the author of For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question: A Story From Burma's Never-Ending War. Read more of her stories and follow her on Twitter. Get Mac McClelland's RSS feed.
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Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue

Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary activities are illegal when performed in American streets.
Mon Oct. 24, 2011 2:23 AM PDT
Demonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park.: Bryan Smith/ZumaDemonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park. Bryan Smith/ZumaThis story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.
As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided—to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1 percent. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?
Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the US have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in DC, a twentysomething occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it's open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues—arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome—should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.
Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities—"as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist," travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled "Criminalizing Crisis," to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:
Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing.
What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to "engage in digging or earth-breaking activities"—that is, to build a latrine—cook, make a fire, or be asleep and "when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live."
It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.
The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible "financial products," leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.
As it turned out, the captains of the new "casino economy"—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed "broken windows" or "quality of life" ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look "indigent," in public spaces.
No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but "Criminalizing Crisis" offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:
During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be "squatting." In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.
Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone's eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.
There is nothing "political" about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the "American autumn." LA's Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.
All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: "The city will not tolerate a tent city. That's been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight."
What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born "illegals," facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.
But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards—from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure—leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless "nouveau poor," and normally encamp on friends' couches or parents' folding beds.
In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It's where we're all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.
Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch regular, is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a new afterword).
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Kennedy Assasination coup d'etat

Here's one of the best summaries and explanations of the Kennedy assassination I've seen. Pretty brief, succinct and inclusive. Have a look:

Kennedy assassination video

The Triumph of Dogma

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

14 October 11

very other Wednesday evening for the past few years I've been offering commentary on a spritely show on public radio called "Marketplace." On alternative Wednesdays David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, has been airing his views.

This past Wednesday, Frum called it quits. He explained to the show's host, Kai Risdal, that he could no longer represent Republican views.

I think that there's a kind of expectation that when you do it that you represent the broad point of view of your half of the political spectrum. And although I consider myself a conservative and a Republican, and I think that the right-hand side of the spectrum has the better answers for the long-term growth of economy - low taxes, restrained government, less regulation - it's pretty clear that facing the immediate crisis - very intense crisis - I'm just not representing the view of most people who call themselves Republicans and conservatives these days…. And it's a service to the radio audience if they want to hear people explaining effectively why one of the two great parties takes the view that it does - it needs to have somebody who agrees with that great party.

I respect David's decision but I disagree with his understanding of his job on "Marketplace." And I find his decision to leave a sad commentary (no pun intended) on what's happening to public discourse in America.

Why exactly was it necessary for David Frum to "represent" the views of conservative Republicans?

I don't feel any obligation to represent liberal Democrats. Over the years I've argued, for example, in favor of getting rid of the corporate income tax, creating school vouchers inversely related to family incomes, and extending free-trade agreements - positions not exactly favored by liberal Democrats.

The American public doesn't want or need to hear "representatives" from the so-called right or left. It wants insight into what's best for America.

Yet over and over again - on the radio, on TV, in print, in the blogosphere, and all over Washington - political ideology is substituting for thought.

Politicians take oaths and sign pledges. Special-interest groups abide by litmus tests and ideological labels. The media is either assertively liberal or conservative. Pundits are either on the left or the right.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party has become so extreme that it's more and more difficult for anyone to rationally "represent" its views. As Frum put in in a post on his website, FrumForum, "Under the pressure of the current crisis - intoxicated by anti-Obama feelings and incited by talk radio and Fox - Republicans have staked out an extreme position on the role of government."

What if conservative Republicans believe the sun revolves around the earth? Would someone in David Frum's position who disagrees feel compelled to stop offering "conservative" commentaries about the celestial bodies? And would a major media outlet then be obliged to find a replacement who agrees with conservative dogma? (This isn't such a far-fetched example when you consider what leading Republicans say about evolution or climate change.)

David's particular break with Republicans has come over what to do about the continuing awful economy. Here's what he told Kai Risdal:

This is not a moment for government to be cutting back. … Right now we're watching state governments try to balance all of their budgets at the same time in the middle of this crisis. We've seen half a million public sector jobs disappear. Now, if these were good times, I would applaud that. We need to see a thinner public sector - especially at the state and local level. But we're seeing what happens when you do that as an anti-recession measure and you make the recession worse. And even though we're in a technical recovery, incomes and employment - all of that remains lagging for people - I think that we've rediscovered in this crisis something that I think we all knew. Which is, there's a reason why the people of the 1930s built some kind of minimum guarantee - unemployment insurance, health care coverage and things like that. And it's not because they wanted to be nice. It's because in a crisis when people lose their jobs, if there is no social safety net they loose 100 percent of their purchasing power.

It so happens the vast majority of economists and economic policy experts agree with David on this - even though you wouldn't know it if you watched or listened to broadcast debates between a so-called "liberal" and "conservative" economists.

No wonder Americans are so confused.

David Frum's voice will be sorely missed. Yet I understand his dilemma. At the start of his interview on "Marketplace" explaining his decision to leave the program, he was introduced this way:

David Frum has been a regular commentator for this program for years, offering the voice of the political right against Robert Reich and the views of the political left.

That introduction illustrates the problem.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The “Very Scary” Iranian Terror Plot

By Glenn Greenwald

October 13, 2011 "
Salon" -- The most difficult challenge in writing about the Iranian Terror Plot unveiled yesterday is to take it seriously enough to analyze it. Iranian Muslims in the Quds Force sending marauding bands of Mexican drug cartel assassins onto sacred American soil to commit Terrorism — against Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel — is what Bill Kristol and John Bolton would feverishly dream up while dropping acid and madly cackling at the possibility that they could get someone to believe it. But since the U.S. Government rolled out its Most Serious Officials with Very Serious Faces to make these accusations, many people (therefore) do believe it; after all, U.S. government accusations = Truth. All Serious people know that. And in the ensuing reaction one finds virtually every dynamic typically shaping discussions of Terrorism and U.S. foreign policy.

To begin with, this episode continues the FBI’s record-setting undefeated streak of heroically saving us from the plots they enable. From all appearances, this is, at best, yet another spectacular “plot” hatched by some hapless loser with delusions of grandeur but without any means to put it into action except with the able assistance of the FBI, which yet again provided it through its own (paid, criminal) sources posing as Terrorist enablers. The Terrorist Mastermind at the center of the plot is a failed used car salesman in Texas with a history of pedestrian money problems. Dive under your bed. “For the entire operation, the government’s confidential sources were monitored and guided by federal law enforcement agents,” explained U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and “no explosives were actually ever placed anywhere and no one was actually ever in any danger.’”

But no matter. The U.S. Government and its mindless followers in the pundit and think-tank “expert” class have seized on this ludicrous plot with astonishing speed to all but turn it into a hysterical declaration of war against Evil, Hitlerian Iran. “The US attorney-general Eric Holder said Iran would be ‘held to account’ over what he described as a flagrant abuse of international law,” and “the US says military action remains on the table,” though “it is at present seeking instead to work through diplomatic and financial means to further isolate Iran.” Hillary Clinton thundered that this “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for.” The CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post, David Ignatius, quoted an anonymous White House official as saying the plot “appeared to have been authorized by senior levels of the Quds Force.” Meanwhile, the State Department has issued a Travel Alert which warns American citizens that this plot “may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian Government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States.”

In case that’s not enough to frighten you — and, really, how could it not be? — some Very Serious Experts are very, very afraid and want you to know how Serious this all is. Within moments of Holder’s news conference, National Security Expert Robert Chesney – without a molecule of critical thought in his brain — announced that this “remarkable development” was “very scary.” Very, very scary. Chesney then printed large blocks of the DOJ’s Press Release to prove it. Self-proclaimed “counter-terrorism expert” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross tapped into his vast expertise to explain: ”Holder weighing in on the plot’s connection to Iran means the administration is deadly serious about it.” Progressive think-tank expert and Atlantic writer Steve Clemons decreed that if the DOJ’s accusations are true, then ”the US has reached a point where it must take action” and “this is time for a significant strategic response to the Iran challenge in the Middle East and globally,” which “could involve military.”

The ironies here are so self-evident it’s hard to work up the energy to point them out. Outside of Pentagon reporters, Washington Post Editorial Page Editors, and Brookings “scholars,” is there a person on the planet anywhere who can listen with a straight face as drone-addicted U.S. Government officials righteously condemn the evil, illegal act of entering another country to commit an assassination? Does anyone, for instance, have any interest in finding out who is responsible for the spate of serial murders aimed at Iran’s nuclear scientists? Wouldn’t people professing to be so outraged by the idea of entering another country to engage in assassination be eager to get to the bottom of that?

Then there’s the War on Terror irony: our Hated Enemy here (Iran) is a country which had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. Meanwhile, our close ally, the victim on whose behalf we are so outraged (Saudi Arabia), is not only one of the most tyrannical and aggressive regimes on the planet, but produced 15 of the 19 hijackers and had extensive and still-unknown involvement in that attack. If the U.S. is so deeply offended by the involvement of a foreign government in an attack on U.S. soil, it would be looking first to its close friend Saudi Arabia, where “elements of the government” were likely involved in an actual plot rather than a joke of a plot.

To make sure you understand just how dastardly and evil the Iranian plotters here are, the DOJ in its complaint highlighted that the used-car-salesman-Terrorist-Mastermind said that he preferred that nobody else be killed when the Saudi Ambassador was assassinated, but if it were absolutely necessary, he could accept some unintended deaths! Here’s how the NYT summarizes that:

The complaint quotes Mr. Arbabsiar as making conflicting statements about the possibility of bystander deaths; at one point he is said to say that killing the ambassador alone would be preferable, but on another occasion he said it would be “no big deal” if many others at the restaurant — possibly including United States senators — died in any bombing.

What kind of monster thinks that way, we are supposed to ponder. Behold the warped mind of the Terrorist! He’s actually willing to accept that others die besides his intended targeted! Is that not the mentality that drives U.S. behavior in multiple countries around the world every day? The U.S. flattened an entire civilian apartment building in Baghdad with a 2,000-pound bomb when it thought Saddam Hussein was there (he wasn’t — oops — but lots of innocent people were). NATO repeatedly bombed structures in Tripoli where it thought (mistakenly) Moammar Gadaffi was located, in the process almost certainly killing large numbers of unintended targets. The U.S. just killed one of its own citizens that it insists (not very credibly) it did not intend to kill in order to eradicate the life of Anwar Awlaki, and killed dozens of innocent people when it previously tried to kill Awlaki with cluster bombs.

The U.S. is the living, breathing symbol of this “collateral damage” rationale. It’s what drives all the multi-nation American wars and occupations and drone campaigns and assassinations that continuously pile up the corpses of innocent people. But we’re all going to gather in righteous disgust at the idea that this monstrous International Terrorist would be willing to incur some unintended civilian deaths in order to assassinate an official of the peaceful, freedom-loving Saudi regime. Really, for brazen irony, how can this be beat?

Tom Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission said the alleged plot “surprises me.” Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett, Kean said the plot is “pretty close to an act of war. You don’t go in somebody’s capital to blow somebody up.

Meanwhile, President Obama decried this plot as “a flagrant violation of US and international law.” But maybe some Persian Marty Lederman in Tehran wrote a secret legal memo concluding that this was all in accordance with domestic and international law, which — as we know — is conclusive and provides a full shield of immunity.

So facially absurd are the claims here — why would Iran possibly wake up one day and decide that it wanted to engage in a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil when it could much more easily kill Saudi officials elsewhere? and if Iran and its Quds Force are really behind this inept, hapless, laughable plot, then nothing negates the claim that Iran is some Grave Threat like this does — that there is more skepticism expressed even in establishment media accounts than one normally finds about such things. Even the NYT noted — with great understatement — that the allegations “provoked puzzlement from specialists on Iran, who said it seemed unlikely that the government would back a brazen murder and bombing plan on American soil.” The Post noted that “the very rashness of the alleged assassination plot raised doubts about whether Iran’s normally cautious ruling clerics supported or even know about it.” The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher has more on why this would be so out of character for Iran.

But while some attention has been devoted to asking what motive Iran would have for doing this, little attention has been paid to asking what motive the U.S. would have for exaggerating or concocting the connection of Iran’s government to this plot. Aside from the benefits the FBI and DOJ receive when breaking up a “very scary” plot — the bigger, the better — it has been one of Obama’s highest foreign policy priorities to isolate Iran and sanction it further: as a means of placating Israel and punishing Iran for thwarting America’s natural right to rule that region (so monstrous is Iran that, as the U.S. has repeatedly complained, they actually continue to “interfere” in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan!). As Ignatius explains, the U.S. Government instantly converted this plot into a vehicle for furthering those policy ambitions:

With its alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Iran has handed the United States an opportunity to undermine Tehran at a moment when U.S. officials believe the Iranian regime is especially vulnerable. . . . “We see this as a chance to go out to capitals around the world and talk to allies and partners about what the Iranians tried to do,” the [White House] official said. “We’re not going to tolerate targeting a diplomat in Washington. We’re going to try to use this to isolate them to the maximum extent possible.”

Meanwhile, Joe Biden announced today that the U.S. is “working to unite the world” behind a response to Iran’s “outrageous” actions and that ”nothing has been taken off the table.” So Iran’s supposed involvement in this plot is the ideal weapon for the U.S. to advance its long-standing goals with regard to that country. Maybe that warrants some serious skepticism about whether the U.S. Government’s claims are true? But we all know that only Bad Muslim countries exploit foreign policy exaggerations or fabrications for political gain, and not the United States of America (especially not with Barack Obama, rather than a Republican, in the White House).

What’s most significant is that not even 24 hours have elapsed since these allegations were unveiled. No evidence has been presented of Iran’s involvement. And yet there is no shortage of people — especially in the media — breathlessly talking about all of this as though it’s all clearly true. If the Obama administration decided tomorrow that military action against Iran were warranted in response, is there any doubt that large majorities of Americans — and large majorities of Democrats — would support that? As I said when discussing the Awlaki killing, the truly “scary” aspect of all of this is that the U.S. Government need only point and utter the word “Terrorist” and hordes of citizens will rise up and demand not evidence, but blood.

UPDATE: Perpetual war-cheerleader Ken Pollack of Brookings says that, if true, this plot “shows that Tehran is meaner and nastier than ever before” and “would represent a major escalation of Iranian terrorist operations against the United States.” Also, he announces, this “should remind us that Iran also is not a normal country by any stretch of the imagination.” That — self-anointed arbiter of who is and is not a “normal country” — from a person as responsible as any pundit or think-tank expert for the attack on Iraq that killed at least 100,000 human beings, denouncing as Terrorists and abnormal a country that has invaded nobody.

UPDATE II: On NPR this morning, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations — and Ken Pollack’s co-author on Iran — said this when asked if he has any doubts about the accuracy of U.S. government statements: “The only unusual aspect of this is actually having a terrorist operation on American territory. I don’t know what the evidence about this is, but I’m not in a position to doubt it.” That perfectly summarizes the political, media and “expert” class’ attitude toward U.S. Government claims: they’re keeping everything secret about their accusations, so there’s no reason to doubt what they’re claiming. The National Security Priesthood that uncritically amplified every U.S. Government claim and fanned the flames of war against Iraq is alive, well, and more mindless and dutiful than ever.

UPDATE III: The Christian Science Monitor details the many reasons why “Iran specialists who have followed the Islamic Republic for years say that many details in the alleged plot just don’t add up.”

UPDATE IV: On Good Morning America this morning, Joe Biden warned that “the Iranians are going to have to be held accountable” and “nothing has been taken off the table,” and then promised: “And when you see the case presented you will find there is compelling evidence for the assertion being made.” Except — after 24 hours of media hysteria — there’s this Reuters article, which — under the headline “Officials concede gaps in U.S. knowledge of Iran plot” — reports:

Iran’s supreme leader and the shadowy Quds Force covert operations unit were likely aware of an alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, but hard evidence of that is scant, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The United States does not have solid information about “exactly how high it goes,” one official said. . . .The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their confidence that at least some Iranian leaders were aware of the alleged plot was based largely on analyses and their understanding of how the Quds Force operates.

I wouldn’t exactly call that — what was the phrase Biden used? — “compelling evidence for the assertions being made.” In fact, it reminds me of the language anonymous government officials began using to describe their “knowledge” of Anwar Awlaki’s alleged operational role in plots against the U.S. once they killed him: “patchy”; “partial”; “suspicion.” But what we learned with Awlaki is likely what we’ll see here: many people reflexively believe government accusations even when unaccompanied by evidence, and that belief is not diluted even when government officials began acknowledging (albeit anonymously) that they do not possess and never did possess any conclusive evidence to support their accusations.

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