Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "Stoopids" Assault Our Senses, Egypt Coverage (Al Jazeera) Online, Citigroup Exposed As Trading Fraud & Planned Parenthood Attacked Unmercifully

Waiting Patiently For Jobs That Are Not There
Friends, Just in case you haven't found it yet, here's the link for the best (and many times, only) coverage of Middle Eastern news and politics: Al Jazeera - English (and you can find it from now on at my site in my bloglist). Yes. English! Even the English-speaking get coverage over there. If you wondered about the recent MSM reporting of the unemployment numbers decreasing, just listen (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

America's Happy Talk Media: No Jobs is Good News! February 4, 2011 Dave Lindorff The propagandists in the corporate media are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to paint a rosy picture using the shockingly bad employment news out of the Labor Department today.

Here’s the raw data:

The official unemployment rate fell from 9.4% to 9.0%, when the prediction had been that it was going to move up slightly to 9.5%.

The number of new jobs added was a net 36,000, the lowest increase since last September, when the economy was still losing jobs.

Here are some of the media quotes:

Associated Press: “The unemployment rate dropped sharply last month to 9 percent, based on a government survey that found that more than a half-million people found work.”

MSNBC: “The U.S. labor market slowed sharply last month, generating just 36,000 net new jobs, the fewest in four months, as winter storms depressed payrolls growth. Still, the unemployment rate dropped sharply to 9 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years.”

Fox News:Economic growth is gaining momentum, with factories busy and service firms expanding, but one critical area still lags: job creation.

Hoops were being jumped through here to try to make something terrible look good.

Here’s the reality: In a trend that has continued now since October, the number of net new jobs created by the US economy has fallen once again, thanks to layoffs by construction companies, warehouse and transportation companies and especially public employers like state and city governments and school districts, which undercut minor gains in the manufacturing and retail sectors. A gain of 36,000 jobs has to be put in perspective too - the US economy has to add 150,000 new jobs a month just to accommodate the growth in the size of the working age population. We haven't seen those kinds of numbers since October, when the job picture slipped back into the negative zone again.

The average number of jobs created monthly over the last three months was just 83,000, according the the Labor Department. And as for that 0.4% drop in the official unemployment rate to “just” 9%? That was the result of a decline in the number of people still considered to be “in” the labor force, which reportedly shrank by 504,000. These are people who have given up trying to find a job - for example people over 62 who may have just decided, after trying for a year or two, to retire early, take Social Security, and give up, or who have decided to stay home and take the kids out of daycare to save money, instead of beating the street looking for a nonexistent job.

The overall labor participation rate - the percentage of working age Americans actually in the labor market, either working or looking for work - fell in January to a recession low of just 62.4%. That is, fewer than 2/3 of working-age Americans are even in the jobs market these days!

This is not good news. It is terrible news. And no amount of beating around the bush, or even outright cheerleading based upon the cherry-picking, or misinterpreting of the data, can make it good. The only surprising thing about the latest Labor Department report on employment and unemployment is how wrong-footed the economic media, and the analyst community, were about it. On the eve of the department release of the date, everyone was writing about expectations that job growth would surge to 150,000 or even 185,000, and that the official unemployment rate would tic up slightly to 9.5%. There was even the requisite spin on this anticipated rise in unemployment, which explained that it was actually a good thing because it reflected a rise in the overall size of the labor force as formerly discourage workers come back into the job market to look for work.

Funny how when they’re trying to explain a rise in the unemployment rate, the media propagandists are quick to mention the increasing size of the labor force, but when it turns out that a decline in the overall labor force is the reason for a decline in the jobless rate, they are silent, or bury the news at the bottom of the news story. When you put this latest sorry jobs news together with last weeks report that housing prices in all the major markets are headed back down for what is called a “double-dip” housing recession, it paints a very gloomy picture for the American economy. And that’s before you factor in the impact of rising oil prices, as traders factor in the growing political turmoil across the Middle East. It looks like hard times ahead, whatever the corporate media are saying.

And if you didn't know how Citigroup and all the rest of that criminal ilk have traded ahead of its trusting customers (legally?) and committed numerous other financial frauds, here's your chance, courtesy of The Epicurean Dealmaker. Yes, I said "legally." Read on for the full story and I swear to all the gods that be that I was a victim of these exact practices in the 90's (when it wasn't legal). (Emphasis marks and some editing inserted - Ed.)
Pay Close Attention, Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

— Arthur C. Clarke

A little while ago, a fellow named Omer Rosen wrote a little piece entitled "Legerdemath" in the Boston Review. Mr. Rosen apparently used to work for Citigroup at the beginning of the Oughts, on its corporate derivatives desk. As a fresh-faced young tyro, Mr. Rosen spent three years selling mostly "mundane interest-rate swaps and Treasury-rate locks" to corporate clients of the bank. Mr. Rosen does not seem to have walked away from this experience with a good feeling about the work he and his colleagues did there.

In fact, his piece created a minor flurry of attention on Twitter and elsewhere, because it paints the activities of Citigroup's derivatives desk in a very unflattering light.

Mr. Rosen writes:

Our clients were non-financial corporations, the Deltas and Verizons of the world, which relied on us for advice and education. Our directive was "to help companies decrease and manage their risks." Often we did just that. And often we advised clients to execute trades solely because they presented opportunities for us to profit. In either case, whenever possible we used our superior knowledge to manipulate the pricing of the trade in our favor.

I never heard this arrangement described as a conflict of interest. I learned to think we were simply smarter than the client.

For unsophisticated clients, being smarter meant quoting padded rates. For the rest, a bit of "legerdemath" was required.

Most brazenly, we taught clients phony math that involved settling Treasury-rate locks by referencing Treasury yields rather than prices.

If a client requested verification of our pricing, we volunteered to fax a time-stamped printout of market data from when the trade was executed.

One person talked to the client on the phone while another stood by the computer and repeatedly hit print. The printouts were sorted, and the one showing the most profitable rate for the bank was faxed to the client, regardless of which rate was actually transacted.

If a rate for the client's specific trade was not on the printout, we might create rigged conversion spreadsheets for them to use in conjunction with the printout. Other sources of profit lay in details that clients thought were merely procedural but in actuality affected pricing as well.

Once, a client called after his interest-rate swap was completed and asked to change a method of counting days. Unbeknownst to him, this change should have lowered his rate. I made the requested change but kept his rate the same, allowing us to realize unwarranted profit.

This was standard practice. My coworkers knew what I had done, as did the traders, as did the people who booked trades. I even tallied the "restructuring" as an achievement in a letter angling for a higher bonus.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Given in what high esteem Wall Street and its employees are currently held in this country and elsewhere, Dear Readers, you can just imagine how this description was received by the chattering classes. Fraud! Deception! Very Naughty Banks Behaving in an Unmistakeably Despicable Fashion!

Mr. Rosen's story was taken as almost perfect confirmation of what everybody already knows: that investment banks are completely out for themselves, and that they try (and mostly succeed) to swindle their clients every chance they get. Sounds good. Too bad that storyline is complete bullshit.

But not entirely, of course.

And speaking of no coverage, Frank Rich covers that situation admirably today (emphasis marks and some editing inserted - Ed.).

Wallflowers at the Revolution February 5, 2011 A month ago most Americans could not have picked Hosni Mubarak out of a police lineup. American foreign policy, even in Afghanistan, was all but invisible throughout the 2010 election season. Foreign aid is the only federal budget line that a clear-cut majority of Americans says should be cut. And so now — as the world’s most unstable neighborhood explodes before our eyes — does anyone seriously believe that most Americans are up to speed? Our government may be scrambling, but that’s nothing compared to its constituents. After a near-decade of fighting wars in the Arab world, we can still barely distinguish Sunni from Shia.

The live feed from Egypt is riveting. We can’t get enough of revolution video — even if, some nights, Middle West blizzards take precedence over Middle East battles on the networks’ evening news. But more often than not we have little or no context for what we’re watching.

That’s the legacy of years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world in a large swath of American news media.

Even now we’re more likely to hear speculation about how many cents per gallon the day’s events might cost at the pump than to get an intimate look at the demonstrators’ lives.

Perhaps the most revealing window into America’s media-fed isolation from this crisis — small an example as it may seem — is the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising, like every other paroxysm in the region since the Green Revolution in Iran 18 months ago, must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook.

Television news — at once threatened by the power of the Internet and fearful of appearing unhip — can’t get enough of this cliché.

Three days after riot police first used tear gas and water hoses to chase away crowds in Tahrir Square, CNN’s new prime-time headliner, Piers Morgan, declared that “the use of social media” was “the most fascinating aspect of this whole revolution.” On MSNBC that same night, Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed a teacher who had spent a year at the American school in Cairo. “They are all on Facebook,” she said of her former fifth-grade students.

The fact that a sampling of fifth graders in the American school might be unrepresentative of, and wholly irrelevant to, the events unfolding in the streets of Cairo never entered the equation.

The social networking hype eventually had to subside for a simple reason: The Egyptian government pulled the plug on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger.

“Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down.

“There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow.

“This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

No one would deny that social media do play a role in organizing, publicizing and empowering participants in political movements in the Middle East and elsewhere. But as Malcolm Gladwell wrote on The New Yorker’s Web site last week, “surely the least interesting fact” about the Egyptian protesters is that some of them “may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another.”

What’s important is “why they were driven to do it in the first place” — starting with the issues of human dignity and crushing poverty that Engel was trying to shove back to center stage.

Among cyber-intellectuals in America, a fascinating debate has broken out about whether social media can do as much harm as good in totalitarian states like Egypt. In his fiercely argued new book, “The Net Delusion,” Evgeny Morozov, a young scholar who was born in Belarus, challenges the conventional wisdom of what he calls “cyber-utopianism.” Among other mischievous facts, he reports that there were only 19,235 registered Twitter accounts in Iran (0.027 percent of the population) on the eve of what many American pundits rebranded its “Twitter Revolution.”

More damning, Morozov also demonstrates how the digital tools so useful to citizens in a free society can be co-opted by tech-savvy dictators, police states and garden-variety autocrats to spread propaganda and to track (and arrest) conveniently networked dissidents, from Iran to Venezuela. Hugo Chávez first vilified Twitter as a “conspiracy,” but now has 1.2 million followers imbibing his self-sanctifying Tweets.

This provocative debate isn’t even being acknowledged in most American coverage of the Internet’s role in the current uprisings. The talking-head invocations of Twitter and Facebook instead take the form of implicit, simplistic Western chauvinism. How fabulous that two great American digital innovations can rescue the downtrodden, unwashed masses.

That is indeed impressive if no one points out that, even in the case of the young and relatively wired populace of Egypt, only some 20 percent of those masses have Internet access.

That we often don’t know as much about the people in these countries as we do about their Tweets is a testament to the cutbacks in foreign coverage at many news organizations — and perhaps also to our own desire to escape a war zone that has for so long sapped American energy, resources and patience. We see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot. But there actually is an English-language cable channel — Al Jazeera English — that blankets the region with bureaus and that could have been illuminating Arab life and politics for American audiences since 2006, when it was established as an editorially separate sister channel to its Qatar-based namesake.

Al Jazeera English, run by a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is routinely available in Israel and Canada. It provided coverage of the 2009 Gaza war and this year’s Tunisian revolt when no other television networks would or could. Yet in America, it can be found only in Washington, D.C., and on small cable systems in Ohio and Vermont. None of the biggest American cable and satellite companies — Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner — offer it.

The noxious domestic political atmosphere fostering this near-blackout is obvious to all. It was made vivid last week when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News went on a tear about how Al Jazeera English is “anti-American.” This is the same “We report, you decide” Fox News that last week broke away from Cairo just as the confrontations turned violent so that viewers could watch Rupert Murdoch promote his new tablet news product at a publicity event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Unable to watch Al Jazeera English, and ravenous for comprehensive and sophisticated 24/7 television coverage of the Middle East otherwise unavailable on television, millions of Americans last week tracked down the network’s Internet stream on their computers. Such was the work-around required by the censorship practiced by America’s corporate gatekeepers. You’d almost think these news-starved Americans were Iron Curtain citizens clandestinely trying to pull in the jammed Voice of America signal in the 1950s — or Egyptians desperately seeking Al Jazeera after Mubarak disrupted its signal last week.

The consequence of a decade’s worth of indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in America — and of the low quotient of comprehensive adult news coverage that might have helped counter it — is the steady rise in Islamophobia. The “Ground Zero” mosque melee has given way to battles over mosques as far removed from Lower Manhattan as California. Soon to come is a national witch hunt Congressional hearings called by Representative Peter King of New York — into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.”

Given the disconnect between America and the Arab world, it’s no wonder that Americans are invested in the fights for freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We’ve been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a jihadist.

This week brings the release of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir. The eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq is to follow. As we took in last week’s fiery video from Cairo — mesmerizing and yet populated by mostly anonymous extras we don’t understand and don’t know — it was hard not to flash back to those glory days of “Shock and Awe.” Those bombardments too were spectacular to watch from a safe distance — no Iraqi faces, voices or bodies cluttered up the shots. We lulled ourselves into believing that democracy and other good things were soon to come. It took months, even years, for us to learn the hard way that in truth we really had no idea what was going on.

Well, no one I know didn't, but it's the current game: pretending you had no idea what they were talking about when millions of people were in the streets screaming "STOP!" On to other non-covered decently events that immensely affect our stateside civilization:

The Siege of Planned Parenthood February 4, 2011 By GAIL COLLINS As if we didn’t have enough wars, the House of Representatives has declared one against Planned Parenthood.

Maybe it’s all part of a grand theme. Last month, they voted to repeal the health care law. This month, they’re going after an organization that provides millions of women with both family-planning services and basic health medical care, like pap smears and screening for diabetes, breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Our legislative slogan for 2011: Let Them Use Leeches.

“What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?” demanded Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the chief sponsor of a bill to bar the government from directing any money to any organization that provides abortion services.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t use government money to provide abortions; Congress already prohibits that, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. (Another anti-abortion bill that’s coming up for hearing originally proposed changing the wording to “forcible rape,” presumably under the theory that there was a problem with volunteer rape victims. On that matter at least, cooler heads prevailed.)

Planned Parenthood does pay for its own abortion services, though, and that’s what makes them a target. Pence has 154 co-sponsors for his bill. He was helped this week by an anti-abortion group called Live Action, which conducted a sting operation at 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states, in an effort to connect the clinic staff to child prostitution.

“Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sexual abuse and prostitution of minors,” announced Lila Rose, the beautiful anti-abortion activist who led the project. The right wing is currently chock-full of stunning women who want to end their gender’s right to control their own bodies. Homely middle-aged men are just going to have to find another sex to push around.

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from “one of the girls I manage.” He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his “girls” were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the “pimp” advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

Still, there is no way to look good while providing useful information to a self-proclaimed child molester, even if the cops get called. That, presumably, is why Live Action chose the scenario.

“We have a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “We do the same thing public hospitals do and public clinics do.”

But here’s the most notable thing about this whole debate: The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan.

“I haven’t seen that they want to propose an alternative,” said Richards.

There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis. If there were, most of the women eligible for Medicaid-financed family-planning assistance wouldn’t have to go without it. In Texas, which has one of the highest teenage birthrates in the country, only about 20 percent of low-income women get that kind of help. Yet Planned Parenthood is under attack, and the State Legislature has diverted some of its funding to crisis pregnancy centers, which provide no medical care and tend to be staffed by volunteers dedicated to dissuading women from having abortions.

In Washington, the new Republican majority that promised to do great things about jobs, jobs, jobs is preparing for hearings on a bill to make it economically impossible for insurance companies to offer policies that cover abortions. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, faced with an epic budget crisis that’s left the state’s schools and health care services in crisis, has brought out emergency legislation — requiring mandatory sonograms for women considering abortion.

Watch out for these banshees. They are out in force.

I'll leave you with these extremely wise comments:

Courage is standing in the streets demanding the end of a thirty year despotic dictatorship, in a country with no tradition of democracy or the protection human rights.

Cowardice is talking about how other people should have human rights delivered to them by foreign militaries.

Courage is risking your life to bring democracy to your country.

Cowardice is talking about democracy for others while actually undermining it when you don’t like the results.

Courage is walking like an Egyptian.

Cowardice is talking like a neocon.

It’s impossible not to admire the courage of the Egyptian people, walking daily into the maws of a repressive regime and its violent goon squads, willing to sacrifice everything in order to end decades of American-backed autocracy in their country.

And it’s impossible not to be embarrassed by the silence of the American right, who bloviate endlessly about bringing democracy to the Middle East, but have gone somehow all quiet lately. These folks couldn’t have been more excited two years ago when the Iranian public was doing exactly what the Egyptians are doing now, but for some reason they aren’t out there cheering this time. Hmm. I wonder, what could be the difference?

. . . What is happening in Egypt is brilliant and inspirational for any number of reasons, but one of them is that it will effectively knock the stool out from underneath the arrogant, repressive and petulant foreign policy of the Israelis. Their ongoing unwillingness to forsake a transparent colonialism project in exchange for peace in the region will now likely be far less sustainable. As long as Israel no longer had to worry about neighbors like Egypt and Jordan reacting to their land-grabs and wholesale human rights violations, they could act with impunity. For years, everyone has been waiting for an American government to clip Israel’s wings, as seemingly the only solution to the protracted crisis, but it never happened. No one ever thought about the other fundamental assumptions on which Israeli policy is predicated. Now they are.

Which is, also, no doubt why Barack Obama is once again playing the role of historical bystander he seems to find so comforting. Mr. Incremental. Mr. Behind-The-Scenes. Mr. Change-You-Believe-In-As-Long-As-You-Do-It-For-Yourself. It’s disgusting. Look, you’re either the bat or you’re the ball, and Obama’s got plenty of stitches to show emphatically which side of the equation he’s on, despite the awesome powers of the American presidency that he possesses, something none of the rest of us have at our disposal. Including every one of those kids on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez getting their heads cracked open. They know a thing or two about the effect of baseball bats. And they know which side America has always been on, and which side it is on now. Is this supposed to be prudent, realist, foreign policy? Just exactly how do they think a new regime is going to treat America after decades of US sponsored repression and then hostility to a liberating revolutionary movement at the moment when crunch time hits? Gee, I dunno. Can you say ‘Iran’? Why does ‘Mubarak’ all of a sudden improbably rhyme so well with ‘Pahlavi’?

The train of liberation has left the station, and may traverse across much of the Middle East before all is said and done. The question is not whether the train will roll, but only whether each of us will be on board, on the platform, or digging up the rails.

Bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, these are our moral choices:

Walk like an Egyptian.

Talk like a Neocon.

Gawk like an Obama.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m with the kids on the streets of Cairo.

As for the United States and its leadership of old men dressed in young people’s clothing, the world is passing us by.

It should. We’re dinosaurs.

On a good day.

Here are my choices for Blogroll Amnesty Day (and I have no idea if any of these are hugely popular today as I didn't run the numbers). I read them almost every day and they are great sources of news and commentary (and please don't tell me that I've chosen some that are read by thousands as that will make me feel even more out of it - although I'm glad someone is being read by multitudes).

BuelahMan's Redstate Revolt




Fried Green al-Qaedas

Beekeeper's Apprentice

Who Hijacked Our Country

The Well-Armed Lamb

Stark Raving Viking

Badtux the Snarky Penguin

The Saturday Afternoon Post

The Rant by Tom Degan

Life and Times of a Carolina Parrothead



Salmon Alley

Retirement Blues


Outta the Cornfield

Menopausal Stoners

Legal Schnauzer

Its my Right to be Left of the Center

illiterate Electorate I Blame The Patriarchy

Hypocrisy Watch


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