Ah, pork: federal funding for specific things in specific districts, copy-and-pasted into the middle of a giant bill about something else. Much like many Jews (and possibly many Muslims–I don’t know enough of ‘em personally to tell), politicians declare publicly they’d never touch the stuff but behind closed doors, their appetite for it is positively ravenous.
Is pork wasteful? Sure, but not even half as wasteful as a government shutdown.
As you’ll recall, this government shutdown was engineered by the Republicans in order to bully the Democrats into ending Obamacare…well, that was the original demand. Then it was to delay it for a year…then it was to means-test Medicare…then it was to let coal-fired power plants pollute more…plus they kept on trying to introduce bills to open up the super-attention-getting parts of the government, while keeping the rest of it shut down…basically, the Republicans shut down the government in order to bully the Democrats into shutting down the government, slowly, piece by piece by piece. The Democrats were like, “Just open it all back up. We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” What they wanted was a “clean CR”: a “continuing resolution” to fund the government at current levels, no changes. What they got was a slightly dirty CR.
A $174,000 death benefit for the widow of former senator Frank Lautenberg
$20 million for LIHEAP (Low Income Heating Assistance Program)
$3.1 million the for Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
$450 million for rebuilding projects in flood-struck areas of Colorado
Up to $636 million for federal agencies that fight wildfires, depending on how bad it gets next year
$2.2 billion for a dam project on the Ohio River
What are You the Taxpayer to make of all this? Well, if you’re a Republican, and you have the conservative Pavlovian response of furious denunciation whenever the phrase “government spending” is uttered, why, you rise up and denounce it. That’s what John McCain did, calling the dam project “ridiculous” and comparing Congresspeople to alcoholics who “can’t resist taking a drink.” (A side note: I recall hearing rumors on the radio during the shutdown period that House speaker John Boehner is a functioning alcoholic. If true, I don’t blame him–I would be too if I had to regularly deal with the far-right-wingers in his party.)
But what anyone else looking at this spending might conclude is, a lot of it is actually for pretty useful stuff. Low-income heating assistance in particular desperately needs the funds, as I wrote about in my last post. Global warming is causing more and bigger wildfires. Now that we’ve found out the NSA’s been spying on everybody, that Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is sounding more and more important. The Colorado flood repairs and the Ohio River dam project, which affects people in Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky, are the kind of things that are supposed to be the responsibility of state and local governments. On the other hand, state and local governments have been hit hard by the recession, and Bloomberg News, that bastion of liberalism, has reported the dam project as being essential for the flow of interstate trade. So it looks like pretty much all of this “pork” spending will actually be really good for the economy and for most Americans.
Well, except for the smallest piece. I think we as Americans can all agree to tell Mrs. Lautenberg to go fuck herself.
When do you stop believing in the bogeyman, realize that your fear of the bogeyman is making you less safe, that this fear is causing innocent people to get killed?
Psychotic. Schizophrenic. Black.
Read the above article and its links. We’ve already had cops murder a diabetic man in his own home while his mother, fiancee and 8-year-old daughter watched. We’ve already had cops murder a double-amputee in a wheelchair for waving a pen around. We’ve already had cops murder an unarmed woman by firing 17 shots into her car, with her 1-year-old daughter inside.
At what point do we as a country stop blaming the victims and start blaming the murderers? At what point do we take a hard look at whether our police departments are training officers to be trigger-happy bigots? At what point do we start actually prosecuting said officers when they murder people?
I mean, really, what is it going to take?
Government Shutdown Press Conference: In Which President Obama reassures the media, “We’re not turning into Greece! Really! I think. Umm…uh…I hope.”
So in the light of the fact that the US federal government has not been operating for over a week, Obama gave a speech yesterday and then took questions from the press.
The message of the speech was simple: Republicans, this whole government shutdown thing was your idea. It’s now plunging our economy right back into the toilet again. Pass a damn budget already. And don’t say”we won’t pass any budget that’s got Obamacare in it” because that’s not negotiating, that’s holding the entire country for ransom. Also raise the damn debt ceiling, don’t try to use that as a bargaining chip either, because if the debt ceiling is not raised the US will go into default. Which means:
It would disrupt markets, it would undermine the world’s confidence in America as the bedrock of the global economy, and it might permanently increase our borrowing costs which, of course, ironically would mean that it would be more expensive for us to service what debt we do have and it would add to our deficits and our debt, not decrease them.
In other words, it would turn us into Greece.
(I hear there are some very pretty barrier islands off the coast of North and South Carolina. Perhaps the U.S. can put a few up for sale? No? Well, how about Amtrak?)
(Now, a country defaulting on its loans isn’t always the worst thing in the world. Sometimes countries seriously consider it, like when they’re faced with a shitty choice between defaulting and submitting to austerity requirements that essentially shut down the government. But of course, that’s not what’s happening here.)
Obama then took questions from the press. This part was much more educational.
Julianna Goldman from Bloomberg asked the question most important to the type of people who use Bloomberg terminals, i.e. investment bankers and other professional financial speculators:
You laid out the economic consequences of default, but if we were to get to that point, would you prioritize and pay bondholders first to maintain the semblance of credit or — rather than Social Security recipients or military servicemen and -women? And how would you go ahead and make that determination?
You can just picture all the bond traders out there, fingers hovering over their “sell” buttons, all those Wall Street assholes who really believe it’s a mark of financial sanity if Obama says “let’s pay the bondholders first.” Because we must always and forever prioritize the holy bondholders! It’s what “the markets” want!
Obama gets this deer-in-the-headlights, oh-shit-I-have-to-answer-this question? look, and takes some time replying. It’s clear from his answer that he really has no idea what the government would do if it got to that point, and is hoping to never have to think about it. But it also seems most likely that he won’t pay the bondholders first, that he’d rather prioritize Americans who desperately need the money over foreign financial speculators. His logic is that if the US goes into default on its loans, its creditworthiness will be shot to hell and it’ll be charged higher interest rates, regardless of who gets paid off first. He uses the metaphors “no silver bullet” and “no magic wand”, which, in this time of potentially catastrophic economic crisis, inevitably make me think of vibrators.
He urges Congress to put re-funding the government to a simple, up-or-down vote:
[…] let every member of Congress be on record. Let them — let them vote to keep the government open or not, and they can determine where they stand and defend that vote to their constituencies. And let them vote on whether or not America should pay its bills or not. And if, in fact, some of these folks really believe that it’s not that big of a deal, they can vote no.
And that’ll be useful information to — for voters to have. And if it fails and we do end up defaulting, I think voters should know exactly who voted not to pay our bills, so that they can be responsible for the consequences that come with it.
Of course, House Speaker Boehner also thinks that’s useful information. And that’s exactly why he won’t let it come up for a vote. Because if he did, they’d vote to re-fund the government. And that would mean the far-right Republicans who engineered the shutdown would achieve neither of their two goals:
1) To show the Democrats who’s boss. Oh, they say it’s about how evil Obama’s healthcare plan is, how they’re willing to shut down all kinds of important government services because they think Obamacare is a socialist train wreck of a bill that will destroy the country, but let’s be real here. The last big game of political brinksmanship we had was over the “sequester”–a series of destructive across-the-board government spending cuts that would automatically take place if the two parties couldn’t agree on a deficit reduction bill in time. At that time, the Republicans’ big sticking point wasn’t so much Obamacare as the prospect of tax increases and cuts in military spending.
The “sequester” went into effect. Which brings us to the Republicans’ other goal:
2) To shut down the government.
For a long time now, the Republican party has denounced any government spending that looks like it might help people. The campaign that runs ads using “spending” as a dirty word wasn’t going to really mind across-the-board spending cuts as a whole, even if some of the cuts kill jobs in the district of this or that Republican Congressperson. It’s the same with the government shutdown. As influential right-wing fundraiser/lobbyist Grover Norquist put it, they want to reduce government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Right now, key economic data is not being published, toxic waste sites are not getting cleaned up, and programs that give poor people the money they need to feed their young children and heat their homes in winter are very close to running out of cash. (See: “The ‘non-essential’ parts of government that shut down are actually quite essential” and “How the Shutdown Hurts the Poor”.) When was the last time you heard a Republican congressperson speak favorably about any of that stuff?
Back to the press conference. Mark Landler from the NY Times talks about how Obama had to skip a going to a big trade summit in Asia because of the shutdown. He asks,
Does China benefit from the chaos in Washington?
I think, for the first time, that maybe it’s a good thing we have so many in our media willing to stoke American fear about China becoming the dominant world power. Because without that fear, we might never get anything done.
Then again, maybe “getting things done” is not such a good thing:
And the one that occurs to me is the trade deal that you’ve tried to do in Asia. The leaders today announced that they still want to wrap it up, but they no longer are able to say they want to wrap it up by the end of this year.
Had you been there, do you think you could have gotten that additional push?
The trade deal he’s referring to is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As the name suggests, it’s pretty crappy. So far the text of it is classified. But from what we can tell so far, like every other major free-trade agreement in the past few decades, it serves to make it easier for corporations to offshore jobs from the US to countries with low wages and few to no laws protecting workers, while beefing up enforcement for laws about intellectual property, which primarily benefit corporations.
Obama says that his not being able to visit didn’t help to close the trade deal, but that
they understood that the most important thing I can do for them and the most important thing I can do for the bilateral relationship and America’s reputation is making sure that we reopen our government and we don’t default.
Richard McGregor of the Financial Times would like to, as the name of his newspaper suggests, get back to “the issue of debt prioritization”. Obama tells him and his readers to wait for Thursday, when Treasury secretary Jack Lew will make a formal presentation on the mess. So now all the dollar-watchers and Treasury-bond-watchers can mark Thursday down on their calendars. It reminds me of back when I used have a side business trading currency. The big central bank honcho makes a speech, the herd jumps accordingly, and if you can correctly guess which way the herd jumps, you’ll make a pile of money in short period of time. It’s all lots of fun–if you’re financially secure enough to have money to lose on trades. If you’re not…well, food stamps are funded through the end of October. Head Start’s had to turn away an estimated nineteen thousand children from their preschool program. In part, how hard you’re hit will depend on where you live: Georgia’s Meals on Wheels program has calculated that it has enough federal money on hand for fifteen days of food. In Connecticut, officials have warned that funds for their low-income energy-assistance programs, which help the poor heat their homes, could run dry in November if the shutdown continues. In western Massachusetts, more than 30,000 households could be left without heating assistance because of the shutdown.
(If this shutdown continues, will the first deaths be reported as such? Or will it be a second-page article in a small town’s local paper, reporting that such-and-such old person froze to death at home?)
Stephen Collinson of Agence France Presse asks about fighting terrorism in Africa:
And if we’re going to see U.S. military operations all around the continent, how does that square with your contention that America cannot be at war forever?
President Obama’s answer is surreal.
We’ve got to engage in a war of ideas in the region and engage with Muslim countries and — and try to isolate radical elements that are doing more damage to Muslims than they are doing to anybody else. We’ve got to think about economic development because although there’s not a direct correlation between terrorism and the economy, there is no doubt that if you’ve got a lot of unemployed, uneducated young men in societies, that there is a greater likelihood that terrorist recruits are available.
But where you’ve got active plots and active networks, we’re going to go after them. We prefer partnering with countries where this is taking place wherever we can, and we want to build up their capacity, but we’re not going to farm out our defense.
Well, the first thing is fine–talk is cheap. But economic development? Sending troops to “go after them” in yet more countries? Why is this the only thing we ever have money for anymore? To prevent terrorist attacks that kill large numbers of people at once? Please. Tell that to the CDC.
So, to summarize: winter is coming and we’re in a recession. If the government shutdown doesn’t stop by November 1st, we run out of money for poor people’s groceries and much, much more. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by November 1st, the US is no longer able to pay its bills, and the global financial markets tank. And the kicker: there is no real economic reason for any of this to be happening. Yes, the US has a big deficit, but there are still plenty of ways the country can pay down its debt without going into austerity mode, like cutting the bloated millitary budget, or imposing a small percentage tax on financial speculation. And shutting down the government is just stupid, if you care at all about the economy. If what you really care about is looking tough to the hard-liners in your party, it makes more sense. But it’s still really stupid.
Today, June 26th, is the International Day in Solidarity with Victims of Torture. Today I’m joining with all victims, survivors and resisters to write about psychiatric torture, in the hope that our raised voices can put an end to it.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in March 2013 called for an absolute ban on nonconsensual psychiatric interventions, including restraint, solitary confinement, and nonconsensual administration of electroshock, psychosurgery and mind-altering drugs such as neuroleptics. He also urged repeal of legal provisions authorizing confinement and compulsory treatment in mental health settings, and said that detention on mental health grounds is unjustified. See the statement of the Special Rapporteur, his report, and the response by the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. Note that the statement revises certain inconsistent positions that were left in the report.
If you can’t understand why nonconsensual psychiatric intervention is torture, then please read these (WARNING: TRIGGERING AS FUCK, ESPECIALLY THE LAST TWO):
Tina Minkowitz, “We Name It as Torture”
Aubrey Ellen Shomo, “Remembering a Restraint”
Right now, 103 out of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike; 44 are being force-fed. They are doing it because they are being held prisoner indefinitely, and this has already gone on for more than 10 years. They are being tortured. (Understand how here–again, triggering as fuck: “What more can they do to me?”)
What I went through was nothing compared to what others went through, nevertheless I can sympathize–I know what it’s like to be held down with doctors forcing stuff into me, I know what it’s like to be locked up for an indefinite period of time–until you’re “stable”, as the clinicians usually put it. It is the same ugliness.
I hope one day American schoolchildren will take field trips to Guantanamo Bay, the way German ones take field trips to Auschwitz–to understand. I hope that the same thing will one day be done with the places of psychiatric torture as well, like the Mt. Sinai Child Adolescent Inpatient Unit and the Judge Rotenberg Center.
In solidarity with all those still locked up, I offer this poem. It is written about the time I was sent to Mt. Sinai as a teenager and assaulted by the staff there. Above all, it is a love poem–as most of my poems are.
When they put me in the mental hospital
And violated my body with their drugs,
Forced needles into my sensitive places
And threw me still struggling into a small locked room
Where I wrote on the window in spit
Because pen and blood were forbidden to me,
I cried out,
But not for you.
I cried out for justice.
You have to understand this.
Let that knowledge cut into your guilt at not being there,
Cut it away and throw it to the dogs.
They are much abused, these poor dogs,
Yet too many still cravenly clinging to their master
And attacking their master’s enemies.
They were beaten and cast out into the street
Yet many of them still fear the beggar in the street more
Than the well-dressed man who put them there.
I can see and name this fear for what it is
Because I have been a victim of it.
Oh yes, I wanted you to be there.
Not to feel guilt, but so that you would understand
That in my tears and rage I was still beautiful,
In my hospital shift I was still sexy,
That their drugs did not take away my anger
Nor their needles my dignity.
Hold fast to this knowledge. You may need it
In the dark times ahead.
For those who might be interested, I have a music video out, original music set to scenes from “The Great Gatsby”:
Click link – Play LOUD – Share with everyone!
Was up all night 2 nights ago finishing my music video, then looking at tweets about the situation in Turkey. Feeling rage against Craig Murray for writing an incredibly sexist post where he dismisses them as “beautiful young women” who are “environmentalist” (code for: naive, gullible, easily manipulated) and really nothing but a cover for far-right Kemalist nationalists. Feeling more rage at the police there for pepper spraying unarmed young people ; those horrible Turks! So I glad I live in America, land of the free…oh wait.
They have taken over a major public square with bodies and voices and tents. They are there because Erdogan’s government is corrupt, because it jails journalists, because it is turning towards the Islamist right, because it is putting in malls where people gather to speak out and destroying all the green spaces.
The Turkish media has refused to cover it.
I think…please let this mean something. Don’t let it just blow over and be forgotten about… They have free food in the square, yoga, a library. So many feels! (Sorry…I’ve gotten into Tumblr-speak. “Feels” means a lot of things, a partial translation could be “incoherent and near tears”.) I wish I could talk intelligently about this, offer some reasoned analysis that opens up new meanings, but then again maybe it’s not really my place to do that. I know where my place is.
But to the freedom fighters in Turkey…good luck. That’s all that I can say.