Coming Attractions

Just a note that I will be hosting an FDL Book Salon with Tracie McMillan on Sunday, May 6, where we will be discussing her book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

What if you can’t afford nine-dollar tomatoes? That was the question award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan couldn’t escape as she watched the debate about America’s meals unfold, one that urges us to pay food’s true cost—which is to say, pay more. So in 2009 McMillan embarked on a groundbreaking undercover journey to see what it takes to eat well in America. For nearly a year, she worked, ate, and lived alongside the working poor to examine how Americans eat when price matters.

From the fields of California, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s, McMillan takes us into the heart of America’s meals. With startling intimacy she portrays the lives and food of Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks, while also chronicling her own attempts to live and eat on meager wages. Along the way, she asked the questions still facing America a decade after the declaration of an obesity epidemic: Why do we eat the way we do? And how can we change it? To find out, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to examine the national prio-rities that put it there. With her absorbing blend of riveting narrative and formidable investigative reporting, McMillan takes us from dusty fields to clanging restaurant kitchens, linking her work to the quality of our meals—and always placing her observations in the context of America’s approach not just to farms and kitchens but to wages and work.

Dwight Garner in the New York Times:

The book Ms. McMillan’s most resembles is Barbara Ehrenreich’s best seller “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” (2001). Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country’s working poor. She takes jobs picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California; stocking produce in a Walmart in Detroit; and working in a busy Applebee’s in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. She tries, and often fails, to live on only the money she earns.

The news Ms. McMillan brings about life on the front lines is mostly grim. In the California fields, where she is the only gringa, she makes far less than minimum wage, sometimes as little as $26 for nine hours of back-breaking work. She lives in cockroach-filled houses, all she can afford, with more than a dozen other people. She delivers a brutal takedown of corporations that, in her view, pretend on their sunny Web sites to treat workers well but in practice use labor contractors that often cheat them. She names names. Here’s looking at you, the Garlic Company in Bakersfield, Calif.

She charts the toll this work takes on people’s health. “My thighs look as though they’ve been attacked by an enraged but weaponless toddler,” she writes after a day of garlic picking. “My hands, swollen and inundated with blisters the first few days, have acclimatized, but there’s a worrisome pain shooting up my right arm.” She develops a sprain, which forces her to miss work and ultimately quit. Other workers, she notes, would not have that option.

You may also recall that Tracie was the subsequent target of Rush Limbaugh’s War On Women shortly after he self-immolated over Sandra Fluke.

So mark your calendars for Sunday May 6th, 2PM PST.

Dissenters’ Digest for March 25-31

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest.

Department of Justice’s Recent Actions Worry Accountability and Transparency Advocates: A number of actions taken by the Department of Justice have caught the attention of government accountability groups and civil libertarians this week.

First, Wired reports that the FBI advised its agents in training materials that they may “bend or suspend the law and impinge upon the freedom of others” under certain situations. That training material has since been changed.

Next, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the misconduct of federal prosecutors in the trial of the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. A $1 million525-page court-appointed report found that these prosecutors withheld key evidence from Stevens’ defense counsel, in violation of ethical rules. The Stevens case was dropped by Attorney General Holder in April 2009. Following the publication of the report on May 15, Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation to prevent the reoccurrence of the same prosecutorial misconduct, which was met with anonymous opposition by DOJ officials. Emptywheel and the Blog of Legal Times have coverage of that opposition.

Finally, a DOJ proposed rule has caught the attention of Senators and FOIA advocates, who noted that DOJ seemed to be usurping the role of the newly-created FOIA ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Service (OGIS). OGIS is an agency within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and was created by the OPEN Government Act of 2007 to mediate disputes between requesters and federal agencies. Its station with NARA is not without purpose, as housing it within DOJ – which is responsible for defending federal agencies in FOIA lawsuits – would have created a conflict of interest. Senators Patrick Leahy and Jon Kyl sent a letter to Attorney General Holder, the Project on Government Oversight reports. DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs responded to POGO with a clarification that seems to put that particular matter to rest, but another FOIA matter is still under dispute.

Supreme Court Weakens Privacy Act: In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Privacy Act does not authorize damages for emotional distress, NPR reports. The suit was brought by a pilot who sued the Social Security Administration for disclosing information to the FAA relating to his HIV status, causing him to lose his license and suffer emotional distress. In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor writes that the ruling “cripples the Act’s core purpose of redressing and deterring violations of privacy interests.” The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Congressmen Support Long-Suffering Whistleblower: Three House members recently submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in support of TSA Whistleblower Robert MacLean, according to the Orange County Register. In 2003, MacLean disclosed to the press a TSA plan to cut back on federal air marshals at a time of heightened security alerts. This prompted congressional outrage and the TSA plan was scrapped. MacLean’s case has been tied up in litigation since 2006, when he was terminated from the TSA. GovExec and GAP have additional coverage.

Obama Official Declares “Zero Tolerance” on Veterans’ Discrimination: John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, declared “zero tolerance” for discrimination against uniformed service members returning to their civilian jobs. Berry’s comments follow a report last month by The Washington Post that the U.S. government is the top offender of USERRA, the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which is designed to protect service members from discrimination in the workplace.

Below the Fold:

–The State Department moves to fire a prominent critic and whistleblower.

–GAO: Air Force has a disproportionate number of whistle-blower complaints within DOD.

–OccupyEPA takes to the streets, demands administrator’s resignation.

–A foreclosure fraud whistleblower reports being harassed by mortgage lender despite winning an $18 million award.

–A whistleblowers’ lawyer and a corporate lawyer mix it up on a whistleblower panel.

–Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduces a bill to reform the Senior Executive Service.

–The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board took no action to study work conditions at the Office of Special Counsel following the controversial tenure of ex-Special Counsel Scott Bloch, according to a recent FOIA request.

–A House Subcommittee hearing on low morale at the Department of Homeland Security but fails to call any employees as witnesses.

Send tips to info at mspbwatch dot net.

In praise of the universal surveillance state. No shame in our game.

(photo: laverrue/flickr)

The left has fought tooth and nail as the proliferation of surveillance devices, both privately and publicly installed, continues apace.

I believe that this is an error.

One, we’ll never roll back the surveillance devices because they give to their controllers the irresistible superpowers of being in more than one place at once, and being invisible.

Two, we should welcome, not oppose universal surveillance.

The recent importance of chance police video of George Zimmerman has highlighted, not for the first time, the crucial evidentiary material contained in the records of such surveillance as to which the government is willingly (or inadvertently) subject.

Per contra, whole police departments have gone to court to oppose citizen cell phone videos conducted in the public streets.

To date, law enforcement, who would put cameras everywhere, fights cameras in the one place an honest cop wants it-the interrogation room, so he cannot later be accused of improper force.

This is another of the super powers of surveillance-the power to disambiguate. Instead of the victims word against the aggressor, the camera/recorder/gunshot locator, etc, brings clarity out of attempted perjury.

Viva Surveillance, may it be frequent, pervasive, and UBIQUITOUS

Thus, complete transparency in government. Nothing is said or done outside the public eye.

If they want to watch us, we get to watch them.

Speaking as a retired stripper, it’s only fair.

No shame in our game, no shame in theirs.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI

Welcome Tim Weiner (Pulitzer Prize), and Host Michael German (Author/FBI/ACLU)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Enemies: A History of the FBI

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Weiner has a talent for getting clandestine government agencies to spill their secrets. After dissecting the Central Intelligence Agency in Legacy of Ashes, for which he won a National Book Award, Weiner now turns his sights on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s intelligence activities in Enemies: A History of the FBI.

Those who watched the 9-11 Commission hearings during which the FBI was criticized for being no more than gumshoe detectives might be shocked to find that the FBI engaged in clandestine anti-terrorism and counter-espionage right from its very beginning in 1908. Weiner shows that while the FBI’s criminal investigative abilities might have made it famous, it was its secret intelligence activities against a host of foreign and domestic enemies that absorbed the attention of FBI directors and the presidents they served. Enemies makes clear that the FBI is an agency that from its birth considered itself above the laws it was charged with enforcing.

In fact, the FBI was created in an extra-legal fit of presidential pique, in defiance of the will of Congress. As Weiner recounts, Congress rejected Attorney General Charles Bonaparte’s request for funds to hire a cadre of dedicated Justice Department investigators, out of concern that it would represent “a great blow to freedom and to free institutions if there should arise in this country any such great central secret service bureau as there is in Russia.” President Theodore Roosevelt, once described as “ready to kick the Constitution into the backyard whenever it gets in the way,” would not be dissuaded so easily. Attorney General Bonaparte simply waited until Congress adjourned to hire the agents Roosevelt demanded under his own authority. To this day the FBI operates with no legislative charter.

Of course any history of the FBI is really a history of J. Edgar Hoover and Enemies doesn’t disappoint, giving perhaps the most complex portrait of Hoover as a consummate bureaucratic infighter ever written. Weiner’s research was aided by access to Hoover’s personal intelligence files and recently released oral histories of dozens of FBI agents who served under him. Many of the stories about Hoover’s rise from a Justice Department clerk to the most politically powerful unelected government official in the history of the United States will be well known to students of FBI history, but Weiner uses the recently released information to breathe new life into them. [cont’d.] (more…)

Goldman Sachs Tries To Get Into Islamic Banking or “Why They Hate Us”

I am not in any way, shape, or form a Muslim. But you know what? I stand with many Muslims today as being offended and disgusted by Goldman Sachs’ presumption (and in fairness, their existence given that as a U.S taxpayer I bailed them out). From Reuters:

Goldman’s plan to become one of the first top Western banks to raise money through Islamic bonds, announced last October, has attracted controversy in the industry, and the bank has not so far proceeded with the plan.

Some analysts have suggested Goldman might use the proceeds of the sukuk to lend money to clients for interest, which would be against Islamic law, and that the issue might not trade at par value on the Irish exchange, which would also contravene sharia law.

Now what the fuck. Is it not enough that Goldman Sachs:

* Committed securities fraud in the mortgage securities market

* Which a congressional investigation revealed significantly contributed to the Financial Crisis of 2008.

* Or that Goldman Sachs directors have been caught insider trading.

* Or Goldman Sachs’ role in the Greek Crisis.

* Or that according to at least one 12 year veteran of the firm Goldman Sachs has a culture of screwing its clients.

And on and on.

No, that apparently is not enough. Now Goldman Sachs, our American Ambassadors Extraordinary of Greed and Connivance, are going to defraud and chisel their way through the Islamic world. Well I am sure this will do wonders for peace in the Middle East.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI

Welcome Tim Weiner (Pulitzer Prize), and Host Michael German (Author/FBI/ACLU)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Enemies: A History of the FBI

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Weiner has a talent for getting clandestine government agencies to spill their secrets. After dissecting the Central Intelligence Agency in Legacy of Ashes, for which he won a National Book Award, Weiner now turns his sights on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s intelligence activities in Enemies: A History of the FBI.

Those who watched the 9-11 Commission hearings during which the FBI was criticized for being no more than gumshoe detectives might be shocked to find that the FBI engaged in clandestine anti-terrorism and counter-espionage right from its very beginning in 1908. Weiner shows that while the FBI’s criminal investigative abilities might have made it famous, it was its secret intelligence activities against a host of foreign and domestic enemies that absorbed the attention of FBI directors and the presidents they served. Enemies makes clear that the FBI is an agency that from its birth considered itself above the laws it was charged with enforcing. (more…)

BofA Also Selling Credit Card Debt to Collectors With No Quality Control

(photo: Money Blog Newz)

We learned a few weeks ago about the JPMorgan Chase debt collection scandal, which featured robo-signing, shredded documents, and loads of criminal activity. Now there’s evidence that this was more of an industry standard, as Bank of America suffers from similar problems in their debt collection business. Here’s the story from American Banker, which has done good work on this issue:

Bank of America has sold collections agencies rights to sue over credit card debts that it has privately noted were potentially inaccurate or already repaid.

In a series of 2009 and 2010 transactions, Bank of America sold credit card receivables to an outfit called CACH LLC, based in Denver. Co. Each month CACH bought debts with a face value of as much as $65 million for 1.8 cents on the dollar. At least a portion of the debts were legacy accounts acquired from MBNA, which Bank of America purchased in 2006.

The pricing reflected the accounts’ questionable quality, but what is notable is that the bank could get anything at all for them. B of A was not making “any representations, warranties, promises, covenants, agreements, or guaranties of any kind or character whatsoever” about the accuracy or completeness of the debts’ records, according to a 2010 credit card sales agreement submitted to a California state court in a civil suit involving debt that B of A had sold to CACH.

Now, in this case, BofA at least made the company buying the debt aware of the potential pitfalls, or rather, they didn’t attest to the accuracy of the debt they sold. But I’m more focused on the faulty record-keeping. Bank of America simply had no idea how to keep track of their credit card accounts, it appears. Individuals who fail to do that are called deadbeats. Banks which do the same thing are not. [cont’d.] (more…)

Kochs, Lies, and Videotape

This week as I premiered my new film, Koch Brothers Exposed — the result of a year-long investigation on how two billionaires are using their wealth to corrupt democracy — Koch Industries has launched an attack on the film and me. The Kochs intimidate, they menace; they have a letter from their lawyer borderline threatening the media if it reports what’s in the film — and they always try to change the subject so their behavior can stay in the shadows: not only are they unwilling to accept my offer of a debate or interview, they also refuse to testify about their interest in the Keystone XL pipeline and may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into revealing their secret contributions to groups doing election work. This time, the Kochs are using a technique I point out in the film: attacking to avoid dealing with the facts. They are dodging and distorting the truth to avoid confronting our findings on cancer, voting rights, civil rights, and more.

How? Let me count (some of) the ways:

1) Cancer. People are dying of cancer near the Kochs’ Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett, Arkansas, and the Kochs refuse to answer the relevant question: What are they going to do about it? On Penn Road in Crossett, right near the mill, residents powerfully show how nine out of 11 homes have suffered from cancer. A USA Today study said Crossett’s school district is in the top 1% in the nation for cancer. Meanwhile, the Kochs’ facility releases significant amounts of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — and there’s no other chemical plant in town. The Kochs are among the country’s top 10 polluters and lobbied hard to keep formaldehyde from being labeled a carcinogen. For a company where one of the owners (David Koch) and the communications director (Melissa Cohlmia) are cancer survivors, this is tragic and infuriating. It reflects a warped sense of humanity where greed trumps all. (more…)

More Myths That Are Killing Us

A month ago, I wrote a note called “The Myths That Are Killing Us” – the hard myths that no Republicans, and very few Democrats, ever challenge. Here was my list:

  1. 1. The Government can’t create jobs. (Tell that to FDR, who created four million jobs in three months.)
  2. 2. Tax cuts reduce the deficit. (Doesn’t it bother them that a man named “Laffer” came up with this one?)
  3. 3. A fetus is a baby.
  4. 4. The poor have too much money.
  5. 5. Cutting the federal deficit will end the recession.
  6. 6. The rich are incentivized by tax cuts, while the poor are incentivized by lower wages, no benefits, an end to the minimum wage, and unemployment.
  7. 7. An unwanted child is God’s will.
  8. 8. Everyone who wants health insurance has it.
  9. 9. The problem with education is the teachers.
  10. 10. The “free market” satisfies every human need.
  11. 11. There is no discrimination in America anymore.
  12. 12. The distribution of wealth and income are irrelevant.

Well, this list seems to have provoked a lot of thought among us. Since I regard what we do as a collective endeavor, I want to share with you some of the best of this crowdsourcing by our audience – 20 more destructive myths:

  1. 1. One gender is better than the other, one race is superior to all others, and there is only one true religion.
  2. 2. You can get any medical treatment that you need, for free, in any hospital emergency room.
  3. 3. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.
  4. 4. The environment can protect itself.
  5. 5. It is better for America to be feared than loved.
  6. 6. Only the wealthy create jobs.
  7. 7. America is a Christian nation.
  8. 8. Human beings are not the cause of climate change.
  9. 9. Minority women have children in order to qualify for welfare.
  10. 10. President Obama wants to take away our guns.
  11. 11. The more we spend on the military, the safer we are.
  12. 12. Corporations use tax cuts to hire people.
  13. 13. The unemployed are lazy and stupid.
  14. 14. Rich people are smarter than everyone else.
  15. 15. We will never run out of oil.
  16. 16. Invading foreign countries wins hearts and minds.
  17. 17. Science is a matter of opinion.
  18. 18. Instigating unnecessary wars shows your support for the troops.
  19. 19. Corporations are people.
  20. 20. Money is speech.

Every one of these myths is fascinating in its own right. You could write a whole book about each one. So to the supporters who contributed to this list, thank you. I’m listening and learning. And if we could just get past all of these myths, then think about what a great place this would be.

Courage,

Alan Grayson

P.S. I recognize that this is a hopeless cliché, but our campaign fundraising goal for the quarter was $500,000, and as I write this, we are only $11,510 short of that goal. Really. If you would like to help us reach our goal, or if you’re simply fond of round numbers, then click here.

Esquire Magazine: Writer Wanted to Help Convert Class War into Generational War. No Skills Required; Pays Top Dollar.

us vs us (photo: montuschi/flickr)

This could well have been the want ad Esquire used to attract a writer for its story titled, “War Against Youth.” This lengthy piece is the best compendium of warped logic and misplaced facts on this topic since the Peter Peterson financed film, IOUSA.

The whole story is given away in the first paragraph:

In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.

That sounds really awful. Thankfully it is not true, as readers could find by looking at the chart that accompanies the article. This is a ratio of wealth not income.

This is a huge difference. Wealth adds up a household’s total assets. This means the value of their home, their 401(k) and other savings, their checking account and car. The calculation the n subtracts liabilities: mortgage debt, car loans, credit card debt, and student loans. This is very different from income, which for most people means their wages and for older people their Social Security.

If the writer, the editor, the fact checker or anyone at Esquire had a clue, they would have caught this mistaken first paragraph and killed the piece. As their chart shows, the median net worth for households over age 65 was $170,494. That merits repeating a couple more times. The median net worth for households over age 65 was $170,494. The median net worth for households over age 65 was $170,494.

Again, net worth refers to total assets minus liabilities. This means that if we add up the home equity of the typical household over age 65, their 401(k) and all other savings, the value of their car and any other possessions they might have, it comes to just over $170,000. This is a bit more than the price of the median home. [cont’d.] (more…)