Saturday, February 25, 2012

Revisiting My Cheaters Episode and Its Infamy...

In Feb. 2006, my wife and I and our friend, Corena, appeared on the "reality" TV show, Cheaters. Here's the clip from the bust:

Cheaters got a ton of mileage off our episode: it's currently on Cheaters' Top 10 All Time Episodes list (and they rerun it all the time, more than any other episode from that season)--at one point it was the #3 episode on that list. Also, our episode was featured on E! Wildest Dating Show Moments 2 (with Loni Love and other comedians commenting on the clips they watch--transcript below), we were on the Maury Povich Show on Feb. 28, 2006, and the clip from the Povich show wound up on E!'s TV clip show, The Soup that same week. It is hosted by Joel McHale from NBC's sitcom, Community. I bring this up, because every time our episode airs, someone from the past gets hold of us and contacts us very concerned about what they saw on TV. And we have to explain the situation. It's very funny, if you haven't seen it, check it out...

Transcript from our clip on E! Wildest Dating Show Moments 2:

00:05:07 So far, the dating scene sure looks like a lot of fun, doesn't it?
00:05:10 I'd hold your opinions until you've seen the televised " in this clip, toni's husband learns a valuable lesson-- when
you're caught with your pants down, go find some new pants.
00:05:23 >> Man: Lights, lights, lights.
00:05:31 >> Jeff?
00:05:34 Jeff.
00:05:35 >> Hey, I am not here.
00:05:37 >> Jeff!
00:05:38 What the hell are you doing?
00:05:39 >> I think he thought he was david blaine really quick.
00:05:42 " >> hey, this is an emergency.
00:05:53 (Loni Love) >> Did he just steal someone's underpants?
00:05:56 >> What are you doing?
00:05:58 >> Can you speak with us for a second?
00:06:00 Jeff.
00:06:02 >> Who's this [bleep] running off with my clothes?
00:06:08 >> Oh, did I get caught [bleep] on a guy in a car?
00:06:11 >> I'm not doing this.
00:06:12 I'm not doing this.
00:06:13 I'm not doing this.
00:06:14 I'm not doing this.
00:06:15 >> I wanna know why.
00:06:16 >> When these people go away, I'll tell you.
00:06:18 >> Tell her what, that you got a wedgie?
00:06:21 >> Announcer: Creative problem-solving-- nice.

A Very Valid Point

This is by no means an endorsement--just a very good, valid point.--jef

Friday, February 24, 2012

‘Anonymous’ hackers target The Geo Group--a private prison contractor

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 24, 2012

Hacker group Anonymous on Friday vandalized the website of a major US prison contractor in the latest salvo in an anti-police campaign.

Anonymous subgroup “Antisec” took credit for replacing The Geo Group website home page with a rap song dedicated in part to convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal and a message condemning prisons and policing in the United States.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose birth name is Wesley Cook, is a former Black Panther and radio journalist serving a life sentence for the 1981 shooting death of a police officer in Philadelphia.

Activists around the world have rallied in support of the former Death Row inmate, who they contend fell prey to racism in the justice system.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to dismantle the prison industrial complex, we attacked one of the largest private prison corporations in the US - Geo Group,” Anonymous said in a message posted at the Geo Group website.
“We are acting in solidarity with all those who have ever been wrongfully profiled, arrested, brutalized, incarcerated, and have had all dignity and humanity stripped from them as they are cast into the gulags of America.” ~ Anonymous
The Geo Group manages prisons, mental health facilities, or detention centers in Australia, Britain, South Africa, and North America. The corporation reported $77.5 million in net profit on $1.6 billion in revenue last year.

Anonymous took credit Thursday for an online raid of the Los Angeles Police Canine Association and the posting of personal and potentially embarrassing information.

“Over the past three weeks, we in the cabin have been targeting law enforcement sites across the United States,” hackers said in a message atop a file at containing officers’ addresses, phone numbers and more.

“Be it for injustices they have allowed through ignorance or naivety, taken part in, or to point out the fact that their insecurity failed to protect the safety of those they took an oath to serve,” the group said of its motives.

The hackers claimed to have gotten the addresses of more than 1,000 officers along with information from police warrants and court summonses as well as about informants in their weeks-long series of attacks on police computers.

Anonymous law enforcement targets in recent weeks have included the websites of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Nice job, fellas!--jef

Privacy advocates worry online advertisers will sneak around ‘Do Not Track’ rule

By Stephen C. Webster | RAW Story
Friday, February 24, 2012 

Following the White House’s announcement of support for new one-click Internet privacy rules, electronic privacy advocates warned Raw Story that online advertisers who claim support the new standards might not actually be keen on giving up their most valuable metrics.

Experts who spoke to Raw Story this week warned that if government officials are really serious about protecting Americans’ private data, it’s going to take a lot more than the recently announced voluntary standards.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is concerned that industry groups may be able to find wiggle room around any such proposals that may ultimately become law, merely by altering their little-read terms of service agreements to include the very tracking the “Do Not Track” policy purports to allow users to opt out of.

“Right now we are at the beginning of a difficult negotiation about who is going to be in the room for deciding what ‘Do Not Track’ means [in potential future laws],” EFF activism director Rainey Reitman explained to Raw Story. “Yesterday’s announcement from the [Digital Advertising Alliance] underscored the risk of allowing an advertising company to decide what ‘Do Not Track’ means.”

Following the president’s announcement, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), an industry group representing the largest online ad networks, said (PDF) that it would implement a series of privacy protections that should allow users to easily opt-out of behavioral tracking systems. However, Reitman warned that while it sounds good, DAA’s move may actually be an effort to pre-empt the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which offers a stakeholder-driven process for open collaboration on privacy standards.

If that’s successful, online advertisers could potentially tweak their terms of service to say they’re in compliance with “Do Not Track” rules merely by exempting unwilling customers from behavioral advertising, while still conducting tracking in the background and away from public view.
“That’s the fear, but I certainly hope that’s not the case,” she said.

Those concerns were echoed to a degree by Joy Butler, a Washington, D.C. attorney and author of the book The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence.

“First, everyone is not in agreement on the meaning of ‘Do Not Track,’” she told Raw Story. “To some internet companies, it means no targeted ads will be sent to the consumer, but the consumer’s information may still be recorded, stored, and even shared. Hence, ‘Do Not Track’ may initially insert more consumer confusion into the marketplace.”

She added that even while the Federal Trade Commission will help to enforce adherence to industry privacy policies, “without Congressional legislation to codify it, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is only a list of suggested best practices that Internet companies can voluntarily adopt or reject.”

Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe, a leading online privacy group, agreed that companies could potentially find ways around “Do Not Track” principles if they become law, but suggested that it wouldn’t be in their interest to do so.

“‘Do Not Track’ and the whole Privacy Bill of Rights is not a law yet,” he explained. “So, one, it needs to become a law. But the question is, could they [evade the law]? Sure, they could. Would they do that? Well, it would be a PR disaster.”

He concluded that companies getting around “Do Not Track” by putting an exemption “buried in the terms of service somewhere multiple layers deep” is probably a bad idea. “I just think that puts you in the crosshairs of so many government regulatory agencies that I don’t think they would do it,” he said. “And I don’t think that anyone would recommend that they should do it.”

So far, companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL have all volunteered to comply with anti-tracking capabilities built into web browsers, and the DAA said it would work with browser makers to unify the technology. What that unifying language will be remains anyone’s guess.

The DAA did not respond to a request for comment.

Win or Lose on the Battlefield, Big Business Always Comes Out on Top

The Rise of the Warrior Corporation
There are few clear winners in modern American warfare -- except, that is, defense corporations.
By Tom Engelhardt,
Posted on February 23, 2012

In the American mind, if Apple made weapons, they would undoubtedly be drones, those remotely piloted planes getting such great press here. They have generally been greeted as if they were the sleekest of iPhones armed with missiles.

When the first American drone assassins burst onto the global stage early in the last decade, they caught most of us by surprise, especially because they seemed to come out of nowhere or from some wild sci-fi novel. Ever since, they've been touted in the media as the shiniest presents under the American Christmas tree of war, the perfect weapons to solve our problems when it comes to evildoers lurking in the global badlands.

And can you blame Americans for their love affair with the drone? Who wouldn’t be wowed by the most technologically advanced, futuristic, no-pain-all-gain weapon around?

Here’s the thing, though: put drones in a more familiar context, skip the awestruck commentary, and they should have been eerily familiar. If, for instance, they were car factories, they would seem so much less exotic to us.

Think about it: What does a drone do? Like a modern car factory, it replaces a pilot, a skilled job that takes significant training, with robotics and a degraded version of the same job outsourced elsewhere. In this case, the “offshore” location that job headed for wasn’t China or Mexico, but a military base in the U.S., where a guy with a joystick, trained in a hurry and sitting at a computer monitor, is “piloting” that plane. And given our experience with the hemorrhaging of good jobs from the U.S., who will be surprised to discover that, in 2011, the U.S. Air Force was already training more drone “pilots” than actual fighter and bomber pilots combined?

That’s one way drones are something other than the futuristic sci-fi wonders we imagine them to be. But there’s another way that drones have been heading for the American “homeland” for four decades, and it has next to nothing to do with technology, advanced or otherwise.

In a sense, drone war might be thought of as the most natural form of war for the All Volunteer Military. To understand why that’s so, we need to head back to a crucial decision implemented just as the Vietnam war was ending.

Disarming the Amateurs, Demobilizing the Citizenry
It’s true that, in the wake of grinding wars that have also been debacles -- the Afghan version of which has entered its 11th year -- the U.S. military is in ratty shape. Its equipment needs refurbishing and its troops are worn down. The stress of endlessly repeated tours of duty in war zones, brain injuries and other wounds caused by the roadside bombs that have often replaced a visible enemy on the “battlefield,” suicide rates that can’t be staunched, rising sexual violence within the military, increasing crime rates around military bases, and all the other strains and pains of unending war have taken their toll.

Still, ours remains an intact, unrebellious, professional military. If you really want to see a force on its last legs, you need to leave the post-9/11 years behind and go back to the Vietnam era. In 1971, in Armed Forces Journal, Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., author of a definitive history of the Marine Corps, wrote of “widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies [of Russia] in 1916 and 1917.”
The U.S. military in Vietnam and at bases in the U.S. and around world was essentially at the edge of rebellion. Disaffection with an increasingly unpopular war on the Asian mainland, rejected by ever more Americans and emphatically protested at home, had infected the military, which was, after all, made up significantly of draftees.

Desertion rates were rising, as was drug use. In the field, “search and evade” (a mocking, descriptive accurate replacement for “search and destroy”) operations were becoming commonplace. “Fraggings” -- attacks on unpopular officers or NCOs -- had doubled. ("Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.") And according to Col. Heinl, there were then as many as 144 antiwar “underground newspapers” published by or aimed at soldiers. At the moment when he wrote, in fact, the antiwar movement in the U.S. was being spearheaded by a rising tide of disaffected Vietnam veterans speaking out against their war and the way they had fought it.

In this fashion, an American citizen’s army, a draft military, had reached its limits and was voting with its feet against an imperial war. This was democracy in action transferred to the battlefield and the military base. And it was deeply disturbing to the U.S. high command, which had, by then, lost faith in the future possibilities of a draft army. In fact, faced with ever more ill-disciplined troops, the military’s top commanders had clearly concluded: never again!

So on the very day the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973, officially signaling the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam (though not quite its actual end), President Richard Nixon also signed a decree ending the draft. It was an admission of the obvious: war, American-style, as it had been practiced since World War II, had lost its hold on young minds.

There was no question that U.S. military and civilian leaders intended, at that moment, to sever war and war-making from an aroused citizenry. In that sense, they glimpsed something of the future they meant to shape, but even they couldn’t have guessed just where American war would be heading. Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams, for instance, actually thought he was curbing the future rashness of civilian leaders by -- as Andrew Bacevich explained in his book The New American Militarism -- “making the active army operationally dependent on the reserves.” In this way, no future president could commit the country to a significant war “without first taking the politically sensitive and economically costly step of calling up America’s ‘weekend warriors.’”

Abrams was wrong, of course, though he ensured that, decades hence, the reserves, too, would suffer the pain of disastrous wars once again fought on the Eurasian mainland. Still, whatever the generals and the civilian leaders didn’t know about the effects of their acts then, the founding of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) may have been the single most important decision made by Washington in the post-Vietnam era of the foreshortened American Century.

Today, few enough even remember that moment and far fewer have considered its import. Yet, historically speaking, that 1973 severing of war from the populace might be said to have ended an almost two-century-old democratic experiment in fusing the mobilized citizen and the mobilized state in wartime. It had begun with the levée en masse during the French Revolution, which sent roused citizens to the front to save the republic and spread their democratic fervor abroad. Behind them stood a mobilized population ready to sacrifice anything for the republic (and all too soon, of course, the empire).

It turned out, however, that the drafted citizen had his limits and so, almost 200 years later, another aroused citizenry and its soldiers, home front and war front, were to be pacified, to be put out to pasture, while the empire’s wars were to be left to the professionals. An era was ending, even if no one noticed. (As a result, if you’re in the mood to indulge in irony, citizen’s war would be left to the guerrillas of the world, which in our era has largely meant to fundamentalist religious sects.)

Just calling in the professionals and ushering out the amateurs wasn’t enough, though, to make the decision truly momentous. Another choice had to be married to it. The debacle that was Vietnam -- or what, as the 1970s progressed, began to be called “the Vietnam Syndrome” (as if the American people had been struck by some crippling psychic disease) -- could have sent Washington, and so the nation, off on another course entirely.

The U.S. could have retreated, however partially, from the world to lick its wounds. Instead, the country’s global stance as the “leader of the free world” and its role as self-appointed global policeman were never questioned, nor was the global military basing policy that underlay it. In the midst of the Cold War, from Indonesia to Latin America, Japan to the Middle East, no diminution of U.S. imperial dreams was ever seriously considered.

The decision not to downsize its global military presence in the wake of Vietnam fused with the decision to create a military that would free Washington from worry about what the troops might think. Soon enough, as Bacevich wrote, the new AVF would be made up of “highly trained, handsomely paid professionals who (assuming that the generals concur with the wishes of the political leadership) will go anywhere without question to do the bidding of the commander-in-chief.” It would, in fact, open the way for a new kind of militarism at home and abroad.

The Arrival of the Warrior Corporation
In the wake of Vietnam, the wars ceased and, for a few years, war even fled American popular culture. When it returned, the dogfights would be in outer space. (Think Star Wars.) In the meantime, a kind of stunned silence, a feeling of defeat, descended on the American polity -- but not for long. In the 1980s, the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, American-style war was carefully rebuilt, this time to new specifications.

Reagan himself declared Vietnam “a noble cause,” and a newly professionalized military, purged of malcontents and rebels, once again began invading small countries (Grenada, Panama). At the same time, the Pentagon was investing thought and planning into how to put the media (blamed for defeat in Vietnam) in its rightful place and so give the public the war news it deserved. In the process, reporters were first restrained from, then “pooled” in, and finally “embedded” in the war effort, while retired generals were sent into TV newsrooms like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football to narrate our wars as they were happening. Meanwhile, the public was simply sidelined.

Year by year, war became an ever more American activity and yet grew ever more remote from most Americans. The democratic citizen with a free mind and the ability to rebel had been sent home, and then demobilized on that home front as well. As a result, despite the endless post-9/11 gab about honoring and supporting the troops, a mobilized “home front” sacrificing for those fighting in their name would become a relic of history in a country whose leaders had begun boasting of having the greatest military the world had ever seen.

It wasn’t, however, that no one was mobilizing. In the space vacated by the citizen, mobilization continued, just in a different fashion. Ever more mobilized, for instance, would be the powers of big science and the academy in the service of the Pentagon, the weapons makers, and the corporation. 

Meanwhile, over the years, that “professional” army, that “all volunteer” force, began to change as well. From the 1990s on, in a way that would have been inconceivable for a draft army, it began to be privatized -- fused, that is, into the corporate way of war and profit.
War would now be fought not for or by the citizen, but quite literally for and by Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater (later Xe, even later, Academi)

Meanwhile, that citizen was to shudder at the thought of our terrorist enemies and then go on with normal life as if nothing whatsoever were happening. (“Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed,” was George W. Bush’s suggested response to the 9/11 attacks two weeks after they happened, with the “war on terror” already going on the books.)

Despite a paucity of real enemies of any substance, taxpayer dollars would pour into the coffers of the Pentagon and the corporate military-industrial complex, as well as a new mini-homeland-security-industrial complex and a burgeoning intelligence-industrial complex, at levels unknown in the Cold War years. Lobbyists would be everywhere and the times would be the best, even when, in the war zones, things were going badly indeed.

Meanwhile, in those war zones, the Big Corporation would take over the humblest of soldierly roles -- the peeling of potatoes, the cooking of meals, the building of bases and outposts, the delivery of mail -- and it would take up the gun (and the bomb) as well. Soon enough, even the dying would be outsourced to corporate hirees. Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan would be flooded with tens of thousands of private contractors and hired guns, while military men trained in elite special operations units would find their big paydays by joining mercenary corporations doing similar work, often in the same war zones.

It was a remarkable racket. War and profit had long been connected in complicated ways, but seldom quite so straightforwardly. Now, win or lose on the battlefield, there would always be winners among the growing class of warrior corporations.

The All-Volunteer Force, pliant as a military should be, and backed by Madison Avenue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to insure that its ranks were full, would become ever more detached from most of American society. It would, in fact, become ever more foreign (as in “foreign legion”) and ever more mercenary (think Hessians). The intelligence services of the national security state would similarly outsource significant parts of their work to the private sector. According to Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, by 2010, about 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top security clearances were private contractors and “close to 30% of the workforce in the intelligence agencies [was] contractors.”

No one seemed to notice, but a 1% version of American war was coming to fruition, unchecked by a draft Army, a skeptical Congress, or a democratic citizenry. In fact, Americans, generally preoccupied with lives in which our wars played next to no part, paid little attention.

Remotely Piloted War
Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war -- all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, anymore. They would like you to use the label "remotely piloted aircraft" (RPA) instead. And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until -- claim believers and enthusiasts -- it will pilot itself, land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even chose its own targets.

In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen’s army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military -- to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no “home front” or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture -- except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.

Of course, it may never happen this way, in part because drones are anything but perfect or wonder weapons, and in part because corporate war fought by a thoroughly professional military turns out to be staggeringly expensive to the demobilized citizen, profligate in its waste, and -- by the evidence of recent history -- remarkably unsuccessful. It also couldn’t be more remote from the idea of a democracy or a republic.

In a sense, the modern imperial age began hundreds of years ago with corporate war, when Dutch, British and other East India companies set sail, armed to the teeth, to subdue the world at a profit. Perhaps corporate war will also prove the end point for that age, the perfect formula for the last global empire on its way down.

Obama Sells Out Homeowners Again: Mortgage Settlement a Sad Joke

Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
by Ted Rall

Joe Nocera, the columnist currently challenging Tom Friedman for the title of Hackiest Militant Centrist Hack--it's a tough job that just about everyone on The New York Times op-ed page has to do--loves the robo-signing settlement announced last week between the Obama Administration, 49 states and the five biggest mortgage banks. "Two cheers!" shouts Nocera.

Too busy to follow the news? Read Nocera. If he likes something, it's probably stupid, evil, or both.

As penance for their sins--securitizing fraudulent mortgages, using forged deeds to foreclose on millions of Americans and oh, yeah, borking the entire world economy--Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have agreed to fork over $5 billion in cash. Under the terms of the new agreement they're supposed to reduce the principal of loans to homeowners who are "underwater" on their mortgages--i.e. they owe more than their house is worth--by $17 billion.

Some homeowners will qualify for $3 billion in interest refinancing, something the banks have resisted since the ongoing depression began in late 2008.

What about those who got kicked out of their homes illegally? They split a pool of $1.5 billion.
Sounds impressive. It's not. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $45 billion.

"That probably nets out to less than $2,000 a person," notes The Times. "There's no doubt that the banks are happy with this deal. You would be, too, if your bill for lying to courts and end-running the law came to less than $2,000 per loan file."

Readers will recall that I paid more than that for a speeding ticket. 68 in a 55.

This is the latest sellout by a corrupt system that would rather line the pockets of felonious bankers than put them where they belong: prison.

Remember TARP, the initial bailout? Democrats and Republicans, George W. Bush and Barack Obama agreed to dole out $700 billion in public--plus $7.7 trillion funneled secretly through the Fed--to the big banks so they could "increase their lending in order to loosen credit markets," in the words of Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

Never happened.

Three years after TARP "tight home loan credit is affecting everything from home sales to household finances," USA Today reported. "Many borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans to buy homes…Those who can get loans need higher credit scores and bigger down payments than they would have in recent years. They face more demands to prove their incomes, verify assets, show steady employment and explain things such as new credit cards and small bank account deposits. Even then, they may not qualify for the lowest interest rates."

Financial experts aren't surprised. TARP was a no-strings-attached deal devoid of any requirement that banks increase lending. You can hardly blame the bankers for taking advantage. They used the cash--money that might have been used to help distressed homeowners--to grow income on their overnight "float" and issue record raises to their CEOs.

Next came Obama's "Home Affordable Modification Program" farce. Another toothless "voluntary" program, HAMP asked banks to do the same things they've just agreed to under the robo-signing settlement: allow homeowners who are struggling to refinance and possibly reduce their principals to reflect the collapse of housing prices in most markets.

Voluntary = worthless.
CNN reported on January 24th: "The HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers' mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners--a far cry from the promised 4 million."

Or the 15 million who needed help.
As usual, state-controlled media is too kind. Banks didn't "lose" documents. They threw them away.

One hopes they recycled.

I wrote about my experience with HAMP: Chase Home Mortgage repeatedly asked for, received, confirmed receiving, then requested the same documents. They elevated the runaround to an art. My favorite part was how Chase wouldn't respond to queries for a month, then request the bank statement for that month. They did this over and over. The final result: losing half my income "did not represent income loss."

It's simple math: in 67 percent of cases, banks make more money through foreclosure than working to keep families in their homes.
This time is different, claims the White House. "No more lost paperwork, no more excuses, no more runaround," HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said February 9th. The new standards will "force the banks to clean up their acts."

Don't bet on it. The Administration promises "a robust enforcement mechanism"--i.e. an independent monitor. Such an agency, which would supervise the handling of million of distressed homeowners, won't be able to handle the workload according to mortgage experts. Anyway, it's not like there isn't already a law. Law Professor Alan White of Valparaiso University notes: "Much of this [agreement] is restating obligations loan servicers already have."

Finally, there's the issue of fairness. "Underwater" is a scary, headline-grabbing word. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

Tens of millions of homeowners have seen the value of their homes plummet since the housing crash. (The average home price fell from $270,000 in 2006 to $165,000 in 2011.) Those who are underwater tended not to have had much equity in their homes in the first place, having put down low downpayments. Why single them out for special assistance? Shouldn't people who owned their homes free and clear and those who had significant equity at the beginning of crisis get as much help as those who lost less in the first place? What about renters? Why should people who were well-off enough to afford to buy a home get a payoff ahead of poor renters?

The biggest fairness issue of all, of course, is one of simple justice.
If you steal someone's house, you should go to jail. If your crimes are company policy, that company should be nationalized or forced out of business.
Your victim should get his or her house back, plus interest and penalties.
You shouldn't pay less than a speeding ticket for stealing a house.

Corporations Don’t Need a Tax Cut, So Why Is Obama Proposing One?

(Oh, I know! The answer is: BECAUSE HE'S TRYING TO GET RE-ELECTED and needs MONEY!--jef)

Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Robert Reich
The Obama administration is proposing to lower corporate taxes from the current 35 percent to 28 percent for most companies and to 25 percent for manufacturers.

The move is supposed to be “revenue neutral” – meaning the Administration is also proposing to close assorted corporate tax loopholes to offset the lost revenues. One such loophole allows corporations to park their earnings overseas where taxes are lower.

Why isn’t the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools.

It’s not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary. American companies are booking higher profits than ever. They’re sitting on $2 trillion of cash they don’t know what to do with. (They could start hiring the 40 million people who are unemployed or underemployed.--jef)

And it’s not as if corporate taxes are high. In fact, corporate tax receipts as a share of profits is now at its lowest level in at least 40 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, corporate federal taxes paid last year dropped to 12.1 percent of profits earned from activities within the United States. That’s a gigantic drop from the 25.6 percent, on average, that corporations paid from 1987 to 2008.

And it’s not that corporations are paying an inordinate share of federal tax revenues. Here again, the reality is just the opposite. Corporate taxes have plummeted as a share of total federal revenues. In 1953, under President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, corporate taxes accounted for 32 percent of total federal tax revenues. Now they’re only 10 percent.

But now the federal budget deficit is ballooning, and in less than a year major cuts are scheduled to slice everything from prenatal care to Medicare. So this would seem to be the ideal time to raise corporate taxes – or at the very least close corporate tax loopholes without lowering corporate rates.

The average American is not exactly enamored with American corporations. Polls show most of the public doesn’t trust them. (A recent national poll by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell found 71 percent with an unfavorable impression of big business – about the same as those expressing an unfavorable view of Washington.)

The Administration’s initiative doesn’t even make sense as a bargaining maneuver.

Republicans will just accept the Administration’s lower corporate tax rate without closing any tax loopholes. House Republicans have already made it clear that, to them, closing a tax loophole is tantamount to raising taxes. And corporate lobbyists in Washington know better than anyone how to hold tight to loopholes they’ve already got.

Big business will fight to keep their foreign tax shelters. After all, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between their foreign and domestic earnings, which is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies have spent the past three years trying to make it even easier for companies to defer U.S. taxes on income they supposedly earn outside the country.

Representative David Camp, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, has already proposed a 25 percent corporate top rate and changes that would let companies avoid paying U.S. taxes on even more of the income they say they earn outside America.

Nothing is going to be enacted this year, anyway, so it would have made more sense for the Administration to support a hike in corporate taxes – and use it to highlight the difference between the President and his likely Republican challenger.

Mitt Romney wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent before eliminating any tax loopholes. Rick Santorum wants to cut the rate to 17.5 percent and eliminate corporate taxes for manufacturers. Newt Gingrich wants to cut the rate to 12.5 percent and let companies write off all capital investments immediately.

It’s discouraging. The President gives a rousing speech, as he did on December 6 in Kansas. Then he misses an opportunity to put his campaign where his mouth is.

(That's because the president--as well as his political party-- is as obligated to his corporate masters as the Republicans are. Democrats and Republicans are all beholden to the same corporate interests.--jef)

Screwed Unemployed Workers and Rising Concentrated Poverty

Friday, February 24, 2012 by The Nation
Unemployment insurance and poverty
by Greg Kaufmann

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, voted against the recent extension of unemployment benefits because it shortened the maximum number of weeks a jobless worker could qualify.

“Instead of scaling back unemployment benefits we need to be adding weeks to help people get by when there continues to be four workers in line for each job,” said Lee.

She makes a hell of a point.

While most of the media has focused on the Democrats “pretty much getting what they wanted,” it has given short shrift to what this deal means for the long-term unemployed, currently at near-record levels, with 43 percent of unemployed people jobless for more than six months. Under the new deal they will receive fewer weeks of unemployment benefits than was available between the end of 2009 and last year, with the maximum reduced from 99 weeks to 73 weeks by September 2012.

So what are the consequences of the Democrats “win” for the long-term unemployed?

A new report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO)Unemployment Insurance: Economic Circumstances of Individuals Who Exhausted Benefits—gives some indication of what might lie ahead for these folks and others not even fortunate enough to qualify for unemployment benefits in the first place.The GAO notes that of the 15.4 million workers who lost jobs from 2007 to 2009, half received Unemployment Insurance (UI), half didn’t, and about 2 million exhausted benefits by early 2010.

That group of 2 million had an unemployment rate of 46 percent in January 2010, and a poverty rate of 18 percent compared to 13 percent among working-age adults. More than 40 percent of those who had exhausted their benefits had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line (below about $35,000 for a family of three), which is the level where many economists believe people start really struggling to pay for the basics.

The good news is Mitt Romney’s strong safety net then kicks in, right? So we can anticipate that unemployed people are able to obtain a little cash welfare until that 4-to-1 (job seekers-for-every available job) ratio drops down?

Not so much.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a cash welfare program designed to help families in distress, is a case in point. It doesn’t reach as many people as it used to—only twenty-seven for every 100 families in poverty, compared to 68 of every 100 prior to the 1996 welfare reform that both parties tout as a success. It’s also limited to people with children age 18 or younger, so over half of those who exhausted UI benefits didn’t qualify. Therefore it comes as little surprise that only 3 percent of households that exhausted UI benefits received TANF; 15 percent received food stamps, and18 percent were in families where someone received retirement, disability, or survivors benefits from Social Security programs.

What is also striking is who doesn’t qualify for unemployment benefits at all.

According to the report, 49 percent of the 15.4 million people who lost jobs between 2007 and 2009 received UI, and that’s only because the program expanded during the recession. From 2005 to 2007, only 36 percent of the 8.3 million people who lost jobs received benefits. Who’s being excluded?

Low-wage workers, primarily.

“Those in the bottom 30 percent in earnings were half as likely to receive UI benefits as displaced workers in the top 70 percent,” the report reads.

The GAO notes that it’s tougher for these workers to meet the minimum earnings requirement and “family crises can also cause some in marginal financial situations to quit a job (for example, to care for a sick child)” which can make them ineligible in some states due to quitting “voluntarily.”

Nearly half of displaced workers didn’t receive unemployment benefits,” says Elizabeth Lower-Basch, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy. “Moreover, all the young adults transitioning into the labor market who haven’t been able to get their first jobs because of the recession aren’t counted as either displaced workers or UI recipients. So both the displaced workers who didn’t receive UI and the youth entering the workforce are likely to have even higher poverty rates than those who have exhausted their UI benefits.”

In 2010, the federal extension of unemployment benefits kept 3.2 million Americans from falling into poverty. In 2012, with this recent Congressional deal reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits, will we see the same antipoverty effect? And what about the workers who receive no benefits at all?

Maybe it’s time to look at how the unemployment insurance system functions as a whole, and how it can reach more people.

Fair Pay for Home Care Workers
There are currently 1.8 million low-wage home care workers in an industry that earns $84 billion in annual revenues. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), more than 9 out of 10 of the workers are women, disproportionately women of color. They are currently excluded from basic federal minimum wage and overtime protections, despite the fact that their work is demanding, stressful, and so vital to millions of families. Many of these women are primary income earners for their families and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports sub-poverty median earnings below $21,000 for full-time work ($22,314 is the poverty threshold for a family of four).

The Depart of Labor has proposed a rule change so that home care workers finally receive the minimum wage and overtime protections they deserve. The change would help women who are working to lift their families out of poverty and also reduce pay disparities between men and women. Higher wages would also reduce high turnover and therefore improve quality and constancy of care.

The DOL is accepting comments on the proposal from organizations and individuals and just extended the deadline to March 12.

“The home care industry is pushing back hard against the proposal,” says Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at NWLC. “The number of comments received matters, so I would encourage anyone who supports this rule change to file a comment immediately.”

NWLC notes 16 states already require minimum wage and overtime pay for most home health workers, proving it can be done without adversely impacting jobs and care as the industry claims it would. Also, Addus HealthCare, one of the largest home care employers, pays overtime and travel time to all of its caregivers whether required by state law or not. The total national cost of the proposed rule change is estimated to be less than one-tenth of one percent of the industry’s $84 billion in annual revenues.

Don’t let industry dominate the DOL’s review. Make sure your voice is heard today.

A Devastating Kids Count
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count reports that nearly 8 million children in the US live in areas of “concentrated poverty,” defined as at least 30 percent of residents living below the federal poverty level—about $22,000 for a family of four.

That’s 11 percent of children in the country, and it’s 25 percent more than lived in concentrated poverty in 2000. What makes this even more alarming and is perhaps a testament to the proliferation of low-wage work and concentration of wealth—75 percent of these kids have at least one parent working in the labor force.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation, said she finds the new data “particularly disturbing” because the long-term trends have taken such a turn for the worse. Between 1990 and 2000, concentrated poverty was reduced and things were moving in the right direction. But the decade between 2000 and 2010 tells a different story.

“Poverty is re-concentrating,” she told me. “There’s more segregation in terms of income in the US and this can have really bad impacts for kids.”

As the report notes, families living in areas of concentrated poverty are more likely to face food hardship, have trouble paying their housing costs, and lack health insurance than those living in more affluent areas. Children are “more likely to experience harmful levels of stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems than children overall.” Even children in middle- and upper-income families living in areas of concentrated poverty are 52 percent more likely to fall down the economic ladder as an adult.

“Part of what we want to reinforce is the concept that children don’t grow up in isolation,” said Speer. “They are affected by both their family’s resources and also very much impacted by the community in which they live. The community is critically important because it really does for many kids equate to the opportunities that they have access to.”

The states with the highest rates of children living in concentrated poverty are in the south and southwest, while Detroit (67 percent), Cleveland (57 percent), and Miami (49 percent) have the highest levels among the nation’s 50 largest cities.

Speer said that although the data is bleak, concentrated poverty “is not intractable.”

“There are things that can be done and a lot of innovative ideas out there that are being tried that make me hopeful,” she said.

The report points to new approaches helping people find jobs, education opportunities, and access services outside their neighborhoods, or move to neighborhoods with more opportunities.

Public/private partnerships are developing mixed-income neighborhoods in Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, and San Francisco supported by federal programs like the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These efforts invest in early childhood and education programs for children, and workforce development and asset-building programs for parents and residents.

Since 2010, the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities has supported coordination of employment, affordable housing and transportation in 103 metropolitan regions across the country, taking what Speer said is “a more long-term, realistic approach to the idea of development rather than just moving everything out to the suburbs.”

Finally, the report notes programs like the federal Moving to Opportunity demonstration project, and housing mobility programs for families with Section 8 vouchers, that show promise in helping low-income families move out of areas of concentrated poverty and access affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods.

But even if Speer is confident that we can take on concentrated poverty, she adds a word of caution.

“What’s scary to me is that we really don’t know what the impact of the recession is going to be on these communities in the long-term,” she said. “This is the initial glimpse at it. But it’s hard to even know what’s going to be the impact of the foreclosure crisis in the long-term on these communities.”

Quotes of the Week
“The thing that’s inconsistent with the American ideal is a lack of mobility. When you have a situation where there is inequality in which those at the bottom can’t rise, that’s a caste system.”
Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist, former speechwriter for President Bush
“Another issue is whether we can turn these low wage jobs that are now an enormous part of our economy into better jobs. There was a time when manufacturing jobs, and going into the mines, and steel mills were low-wage jobs. It was the union movement and the rights of workers to organize—enforced by the government—that raised those jobs to the point where people could move into the middle-class. There is no reason why many of the low-wage service jobs now can’t be turned into better jobs. But that would require a new militancy on the outside—politicians would have to be pushed, and the media would have to be pushed to cover it, to get that done.”
Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist, distinguished senior fellow at Demos

Further Reading

50 Years Later: Poverty and The Other America,
Maurice Isserman.
The American Deficit: Where Do We Go From Here? Marian Wright Edelman.

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $22,300 for a family of four): 46.2 million, 15.1 percent
Kids in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all kids
Poverty rate for people in single mother families: 42 percent
Increase in number of Americans in poverty, 2006-2010: 27 percent
Increase in US population, 2006-2010: 3.3 percent.

The reason Obama's first term as president is a failure is because those who were suffering when Obama took office are suffering now worse than they were then. And now there are more of them. Obama was elected because he convinced the voters that he cared and that things would change. Things did change--they got much worse.--jef

Scumbag Bill Gates: "We Need Genetically Modified Seeds"

Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Gates' yield-increasing claims widely refuted by studies

At a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates pressed the need for genetically modified seeds in the developing world, and the need for a "digital revolution" to meet the needs of the world's farmers. Gates' claims that genetically modified crops double or triple smaller farmers' yields have been challenged by recent research.

Agence France-Presse reports:
(World Economic Forum / by Sebastian Derungs)
Microsoft founder Bill Gates on Thursday called for a "digital revolution" to alleviate world hunger by increasing agricultural productivity through satellites and genetically-engineered seed varieties. 
"We have to think hard about how to start taking advantage of the digital revolution that is driving innovation including in farming," the U.S. billionaire philanthropist said in a speech at the UN rural poverty agency IFAD in Rome.
"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. We believe that it's possible for small farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land," Gates said. [...]
Another key development is the use of satellite technology developed by defense departments to document data about individual fields, as well as information videos of farmers discussing best practices to help others. [...]
Gates also defended the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the developing world and large-scale farm land investments by foreign states in the developing world -- both highly controversial issues in the aid community.
AFP adds that Gates announced $200 million (150 million euros) in new grants from his foundation to finance research on a new type of drought-resistant maize.

The Associated Press notes that Gates' plan is looking for more accountability with countries receiving aid, saying they should provide "report cards" to show what they've accomplished with the aid.

As John Vidal reported for the Guardian, the claims that genetically modified seeds can increase gains have been challenged by research:
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.

And a 2009 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that genetically modified seeds failed to increase yields in U.S. crops:
Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. 
"The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven't enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. "In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results."

Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams:
“Bill Gates may be a smart guy in terms of computer programming, and an expert on how to become a billionaire, but he obviously knows nothing about agriculture other than what Monsanto the devil and the biotech industry have told him. Eighteen years after the introduction of the first genetically engineered crops, there is no evidence, including data from the pro-biotech USDA, that these energy and chemical-intensive crops increase yield, improve nutrition, or provide greater yields under adverse weather conditions of drought or heavily rains. On the contrary hundreds of studies, including those by peer-reviewed scientists and the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicate that organic crops provide significantly higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants; that organic crops have significantly higher yields during periods of drought and torrential rain; and that agro-ecological or organic farms produce 2-10 times great yields than industrial-scale chemical and GMO farms. In others words, not only can organic farming and ranching feed the world, but in fact it is the only way that we will ever be able to feed the world.”

* * *

Recent reports also show Gates behind climate engineering efforts, as he is among other wealthy individuals financially backing scientists to lobby governments to push geoengineering, raising concerns that this small group may have a large impact on further decisions on geoengineering.

(Gates' support for geoengineering and GMOs is what makes him a scumbag. You retired, Bill. Now, go the fuck away!--jef)

On the Brink: Fiscal Austerity Threatens a Global Recession

Friday, February 24, 2012 by The Real News Network

Dr. Heiner Flassbeck, Director, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD: European austerity policies past the point of no return, driving global economy towards deep and lengthy recession.

Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply

Friday, February 24, 2012 by Common Dreams
Food justice advocates rise up to confront corporate control of our food system

An alliance of Occupy groups, environmental and food justice organizations have called for a global day of action on February 27 to resist corporate control of our food system and to work towards a healthy food supply for all.

Occupy Our Food Supply is a call facilitated by Rainforest Action Network and is supported by over 60 Occupy groups and over 30 organizations including Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farms Coalition and Pesticide Action Network.

Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Agribusiness campaigner with Rainforest Action Network says of the day of action:
"Occupy our Food Supply is a day to reclaim our most basic life support system – our food – from corporate control. It is an unprecedented day of solidarity to create local, just solutions that steer our society away from the stranglehold of industrial food giants like Cargill and Monsanto the devil.”

Occupy Our Food Supply supporter Vandana Shiva says:
"Our food system has been hijacked by corporate giants from the Seed to the table. Seeds controlled by Monsanto the devil, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Philip Morris, retail controlled by Walmart - is a recipe for Food Dictatorship. We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."

Occupy Wall Street’s Sustainability and Food Justice Committees also issued a letter in support of the day of action:
“On Monday, February 27th, 2012, OWS Food Justice, OWS Sustainability, Oakland Food Justice & the worldwide Occupy Movement invite you to join the Global Day of Action to Occupy the Food Supply. We challenge the corporate food regime that has prioritized profit over health and sustainability. We seek to create healthy local food systems. We stand in Solidarity with Indigenous communities, and communities around the world, that are struggling with hunger, exploitation, and unfair labor practices.”

“On this day, in New York City, community gardeners, activists, labor unions, farmers, food workers, and citizens of the NYC metro area, will gather at Zuccotti Park at noon, for a Seed Exchange, to raise awareness about the corporate control of our food system and celebrate the local food communities in the metro area.”

Vandana Shiva: "We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."

"When our food is at risk, we are all at risk."

In an op-ed on the Huffington Post today, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, supporters of the day of action, emphasize that the consolidation of our food supply is harming the environment, food safety and farmers:
Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can't find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about foodborne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farmworker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day's work.

When our food is at risk we are all at risk.

Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto the devil. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.

This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.

The Occupy Our Food Supply website indicates that the action is Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, and that in addition to confronting the corporation control of our food supply, we must work towards solutions to make healthy food accessible to everyone. It invites people to share their fair food solutions on their Facebook page and on Twitter using the #F27 hashtag.

* * *

Eric Holt-Giménez, Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First Executive Director,writes that while the demand to fix the food system seems reasonable, it does not address the "inequitable foundations of the global food system."
The goal of food justice activists is a sustainable and equitable food system. Their strategy is to actively construct this alternative. Tactics include community gardens, CSAs, organic farming, etc. The problem is that this combination of strategy and tactics only addresses individual and institutional inequities in the food system, leaving the structure of the corporate food regime intact. The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful -- and why it is feared. The political alignment of these movements, however, is no small challenge.

The War on Labor

Right to Work

“When you are approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others.  You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future.  Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry.” ~ George Orwell, Down and Out in London and Paris

As a fan of George Orwell I have grown to wonder if too many of our political geniuses misinterpreted his classic work 1984 as a how-to book on controlling the masses. Had they read his earlier autobiographical work Down and Out in London and Paris, they would have understood that Orwell was a man of the people and his sympathy was planted firmly with the poor, the outcast and the working class.

Of all the Orwellian phrases in common use these days one of the most egregious is the Right to Work. Adopted in twenty-three states, right-to-work laws effectively ban labor unions by prohibiting workers from gaining union representation by a majority vote. The Right to Work is the right of a worker to refuse to pay union dues. Because unions gain power by representing workers as a united front in negotiations with management, right-to-work laws negate that power.

As a result of these union-busting laws, unions have ceased to function and workers earn less. The average worker in a right-to-work state earns anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 less per year than workers in other states. They receive less in health benefits, less in pension benefits and less protection from unsafe conditions or unfair dismissal.

Studies have been inconclusive on the decline of union representation as a result of right-to-work laws because unions must already have declined in order for such laws to be adopted. The law therefore serves as a substantial roadblock to rebuilding a union movement.

The war on labor does not end with Right to Work. Having decimated labor in the private sector (as of January 2011, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of union workers in the private sector fell to a 100-plus-year low of 6.9 percent), anti-labor forces have taken aim at the public sector. The tactic of choice against police, firefighters, teachers and other government employees is attacking the right to collective bargaining and binding arbitration.

To fully comprehend this attack, you need to understand that government employees are often prohibited by law from striking to achieve fair treatment in negotiations with their employers. In those cases where it is legal to strike, conscientious employees are loath to do so because of the harm it would do to students and communities. Binding arbitration by an impartial body is an alternative to the strike.

When you take away the right to fair arbitration, you leave workers at the mercy of their employers and you cut the union off at its knees.

These same politicians who yearn for yesteryear when the middle class was strong and the American dream of upward mobility was still alive, neglect to tell you that those were the days when unions were on the rise.

The peak rate of union workers in this nation was the mid 1950’s. After the experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War, Americans understood that if workers were to achieve financial security they needed representation to counter the power of corporations and bankers. Combined with the GI Bill, enabling veterans to gain a college education, the union movement more than any other single phenomenon created the working middle class.

The statistics are staggering. From a high of 35% of workers represented by a union to a low of 11.9 % today, if you wonder why wages have stagnated while corporate profits have exploded, look no further.

Both of the key strategies in the war on labor operate on the same principle: divide and conquer.

The right-to-work laws divide the workforce into those who support the union, who feel a sense of responsibility to fellow workers, who recognize the need for unity in representation against the powerful, against those who will not sacrifice a red penny of their paycheck for the common good.

The assault on collective bargaining is an attempt to divide private workers, who have already lost their union rights, against public workers, who earn more and claim greater benefits because they have retained union representation.

We are all in this fight together. If we wish to push back the most powerful force the world has ever encountered, corporate greed, we must unite against the tide. The right to organize the workplace, the right to unionize, must be fought for and defended.

We are under siege. We are the victims of a devastating fifty-year war against workers that is relentless and without mercy. The corporations have taken control of our government with unlimited sponsorship of elected officials. They have moved our industries to China, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere, without any concern for the welfare of our nation or its people. They have outsourced our technology service, drafting and infrastructure planning jobs to India. They have reduced their share of tax responsibility to a minimum with offshore accounts and favorable legislation, forcing a beleaguered workforce to pick up the tab. And they have done all this with a sense of entitlement.

We are just beginning to fight back. We are beginning to understand that if we speak out in one voice, the 99 against the one, our politicians will begin to listen. We are beginning to understand that fighting for labor rights overseas will bring the jobs that are rightfully ours back home.

China does not own America.

The low point in this war on labor was in 2010 when the anti-labor forces took control of our legislatures but they overplayed their hand. In 2012 we must take back control and reverse the course of the nation.

The corporations do not own us.

The first part of the labor agenda must be to strike down right-to-work laws in the 23 states that now embrace them. The most efficient means is a federal law affirming the principle of majority rule as fundamental to the rights of labor. Barring that, states that uphold the rights of labor should establish a policy of preference to those states that do the same. Right-to-work states should be held to account. States that fail to acknowledge the basic right to organize the workplace should pay a price.

The second part of the labor agenda should be an affirmation of the right to collective bargaining and binding arbitration as an alternative to the general strike. Again, federal law is the most efficient means to this end but state alternatives should serve to provide motivation should the federal government fail.

The corporations that have taken control of our government will cry foul. They will accuse us of class warfare to which we will reply: yes, but now we are fighting back.

Dissent and the Politics of Control

Creating Your Own Context

Political strategy in the West operates on contrived dualisms where an “in” group argues of the dangers that an out group poses and the “out” group argues that life under the in group is an ongoing disaster that will only end when the out group replaces the in group in the seat of political power (“change you can believe in”). That this storyline, to the extent that it reflects reality, has correlated with the multi-decade consolidation of power among an economic elite and the related impoverishment of the masses may offer insight helpful for effective dissent.

In response to disillusion over the perceived failure of the worldwide rebellions of 1968, and more broadly with state socialism in Europe following WWII, European philosophers in the 1970s and 1980s developed the idea of the “totalizing narrative,” the all-encompassing explanation of some aspect of the world that subsumes others. The totalizing narrative doesn’t reference an invariant fact of the world argue the philosophers, but is rather a delimited worldview that functions as an instrument of social domination, either hegemonic or explicit.

While originally put forward as broadly anti-ideological, some leading proponents of European postmodernism (Jacques Derrida) back-pedaled in their critique of the left when it became apparent that philosophical deference to small narratives helped feed the Reagan / Thatcher claim that atomistic capitalism avoided grand narratives by providing for individually derived wants. That it took the advertising industry nearly a century to produce these individually derived wants was not entirely unknown in academia.

Capitalism, atomistic or otherwise, is one example of a totalizing narrative in that it posits a human nature in which all actions derive from economic self-interest. In a capitalist economy dissent is put forward as a market failure, a complaint from the losers of a supposed fair game that they (the losers) simply lacked the skill to win. And should the dissenters have a point argue the theorists of capitalism, it would be recognized in the marketplace of ideas and justly rewarded if deemed to have merit.*

By subsuming criticism, totalizing narratives close off the possibility of dissent from outside of the closed system. Dissent either plays by the given rules or it is irrelevant in that there is no discursive context within which it can be understood. An example from recent decades is the charge of “class warfare” made by right-wing politicians that relies on the perception (totalizing narrative) that capitalism is a fair system in which class, to the extent that it might exist, derives from differentiated skills rather than social struggle. The idea of class inferred by the right is extrinsic to the discussion of capitalism because it reflects supposed facts of nature (differentiated skills) rather than the intrinsic facts of capitalism.

The question then is: does dissenting within a context controlled by others, the totalizing narrative (1) grant authority to the idea of control and to those particular people doing the controlling and (2) does doing so undermine the content of the dissent when the content includes a rejection of the politics of hierarchical control, of contrived dualisms? (Is the rejection of hierarchy limited to the complaint of those on the bottom of the existing hierarchy or is rejection from outside of the hierarchical system possible?)

The follow on question for would be dissenters is: do you dissent within the context controlled by those from whom you are dissenting or do you create your own context, even though doing so leaves you outside of the dominant conversation, and therefore outside of the technologies of accepted public discourse (television, mainstream newspapers)?

And so it is with this set of questions that some in the Occupy movement have refused to reduce dissent to the terms provided—to producing a list of demands, to making a set of concrete proposals, to creating a “leadership” structure that resembles hierarchical systems and to modes of action that confine dissent to a set of rules imposed by an external system of social control designed to shut effective dissent down. Is effective dissent even possible within a discursive / political system designed to exclude effective dissent?

What is inferred by recent essays on Occupy, some supportive, others less so, is that dissent is here and always a struggle for political / economic / social control. The absurdly violent and heavy-handed police response to the Occupy movement nationwide is evidence that the plutocrat-state sees only its hierarchical, violent, oppressive, controlling image in dissent. In that view the struggle is always for power and never against power.

With no intended irony, the Western discourse around political violence is that large-scale state violence targeting civilians is morally and politically acceptable but that small-scale non-state violence isn’t. (Should the lie that civilian deaths are accidental in state violence have resonance, please see “war of attrition” with respect to America in Vietnam and Central America). My point here is that the accepted discourse on political violence is self-serving nonsense. To argue within that discourse is to give credence to self-serving nonsense. Any real challenge to the idea of the use of political violence, either pro or con, might be better served by prying the discourse open rather than playing by the existing rules.

With history as a guide, ordinary Americans love unconscionable violence (example: Falluja) when it is committed against “others” and is favorably framed in terms of a cultural / political / economic / religious dualism, an opposition that places them on the inside and that finds its mirror in the very terms of totalizing discourses. Granting sincere aversion to violence on the parts of those advising the Occupy movement, it is primarily the fear of being politically marginalized that leads to the argument that the movement will be harmed by protester violence.

The inference behind this fear is that there exists a large group of people (ordinary Americans) who will both blindly accept the framing of political violence handed them by those they are one day expected to rebel against and who can also be swayed toward supporting the cause of dissent if the dissenters comport themselves according to the rules that place them on the “right” side of a political narrative defined by the plutocrat-state. Life is no doubt difficult, but forgive me if that seems like an impossible balancing act.

The only reason why so-called ordinary Americans might join a rebellion is if they see themselves on the outside of a social order designed for the benefit of others. And creating the conditions of would-be rebellion is the plutocrat-state, not would-be dissenters. Furthermore, while discourse certainly plays a role in how circumstances are perceived, it is the material conditions alone that make an existing order intolerable.

If the long-term unemployed, the outsourced, the imprisoned, the impoverished, the newly homeless, the long term homeless, those who have had their homes stolen by the banks, the discriminated against, the poor, the marginalized, the indebted, those who had their pensions stolen, those who are seeing the social programs that they paid for cut to fund military adventures abroad, those who did the bailing out, those without access to medical care, the polluted, the fracked, the invaded, the economic refugees and so on—if these people don’t perceive a problem then who are we to tell them that there is a problem? And if they do see a problem, are they not potential allies and not mindless pawns to be managed?

Either the material conditions exist for a broad-based rebellion or no rebellion will take place. The plutocrat-state and the institutions of power can be counted on to behave badly whether or not they feel threatened. There is no storyline too implausible for the mainstream media to put forward as fact. So why worry about what they are going to say?

Being clever and being complicit are different things. Again, the question is: how can we be different if we are the same? Only by stepping outside of the totalizing narratives of the plutocrat-state is true dissent possible. And the risk there is of an absence of control. If the goal is simply to exchange chairs, to take power rather than to destroy the very idea of power, then mainstream politics already has a role for you.

With neither romance nor naiveté, the opening that Occupy has provided is to try something different. The moment is likely fleeting. But take it from someone who was there (although a little kid) in 1968—the regrets for not taking it far enough far outweigh any others in my life. The way to fight the death and despair of the plutocrat state is with life, not with competing death and despair.