On the 2014 mid-terms and Obama’s inner Marxist

I wrote something for Salon about the 2014 mid-term electionzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Make it the only thing you read on the topic.

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Pro-war pundits are always wrong, always claiming to be right

Over at a website called Medium that I guess looks prettier than this website, I explain that neoconservative pundits Max Boot and Deroy Murdoch are heartless monsters who live in nicer homes than you or me. Read it.

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Hooked on finance

My latest piece for Salon is on the recent trend of big banks opening branches literally inside high schools, ostensibly to teach students how to deal with money but also, conveniently — and as they openly admit — to promote their brands. Check it out and may peace be with you.

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The latest in me

Friends! It occurred to me the other day: I have a blog. I should post things on it. Things I’ve written! And so here we go.

“The United States doesn’t ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objective,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said the other day. I respond on Counterpunch.

Despite a bunch of lawsuits, Hollywood production companies continue to rely on unpaid labor — though as I note in The Baffler, they’ll claim it’s a mistake if you ask about it.

That last piece was originally to be published by Vice, a media platform for which I once worked. It was killed because it implicated too many #brands with which Vice may want to partner one day, and because Vice doesn’t exactly have a spotless labor record, but such is life. All that out of the way: I wrote a bunch of things for Vice that I never linked to here.

I love you all. Happy Wednesday.

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New Hampshire makes life harder for military recruiters

The state of New Hampshire has just passed a law that bars schools from handing over “test results, detailed demographic information, and social security numbers to military recruiting services without the consent of parents,” according to the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (NCPSP).

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was signed into law on July 14 by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Specifically, it bars schools from handing over data to recruiters obtained through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, which is ostensibly a vocational test administered by the Department of Defense. However, New  Hampshire schools are still required by the No Child Left Behind law to hand over so-called “directory information” to military recruiters — names, addresses and phone numbers — unless parents explicitly object (and even then, there’s still no guarantee their child’s information isn’t being stored in a Pentagon database).

The victory, albeit small, comes after a similar bill was defeated earlier this year by Democrats in Connecticut, which I wrote about for Rupert Murdoch. The difference this time, according NCPSP director Pat Elder, was that the lobbying campaign was much more low-key.

“We didn’t mention it publicly,” Elder told me, which meant opponents “were caught off guard.” New Hampshire is the third state to enact such legislation, joining Maryland and Hawaii.

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Families rally for Gaza, old people for Israel

14) - 26I don’t know if the media narrative on the asymmetric Israel-Palestine conflict is in fact changing for the better, though it does seem as if there are more and more reports in the mainstream press depicting Palestinians as people capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion. What seems apparent, though, is that the Palestinian cause is attracting the young of all races while the pasty-white “pro-Israel” crowd ages into irrelevance.

Young people just aren’t as into Israel as their parents, as I saw at a rally for Gaza that was held this past Sunday in Los Angeles. Though the crowd of several hundred people appeared to be predominantly Middle Eastern, there was a significant contingent of 14) - 6whites and Latinos of all ages and at least one adorable dog showing solidarity with the people of Palestine. Protesters holding signs along busy Wilshire Boulevard received enthusiastic honks from what seemed like every other car that drove by; the only negative response I saw was an old woman in a Lexus who extended her middle finger and yelled “terrorist!” at my partner, her role in Islamic terrorism deduced from her wearing a keffiyeh.

The only real counter-protesters that I saw walking on their own two feet were a couple of 14) - 29guys holding hand-written, multi-colored signs that projected an image of fringe crackpot-ery, as if they could have seamlessly shifted from defending the slaughter in Gaza to explaining how the Muslim Brotherhood uses chemtrails to promote anti-Semitism. Granted, this was a pro-Palestine protest, but look at the faces of those “standing with Israel” and the story is almost always the same: they’re older, white, and display all the defensive hostility  that comes with knowing that support for their cause is slipping away faster than it takes for the IDF to bomb another hospital.

Amid the horror of all that’s happening in the world, there’s some comfort in that — though until it results in in meaningful change, it’s of course little comfort to those having bombs dropped on them.

See more pictures from the rally here.

UPDATE: Statistical evidence backing my anecdotal experience.

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The modern American breadline

bread-line1During the Great Depression, poor Americans would line around the block waiting in line for a bit of bread, photos of which are taken as evidence of just how bad things got during the 1930s. Today, there is still poverty in the United States – about 50 million Americans are poor, according to the official account – but we don’t have bread lines (too much gluten); instead, as I saw Thursday at a farmers’ market in Los Angeles, we have “WIC” lines, in which hundreds of women with young children waited nearly 2 hours for just $20 in vouchers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

At first, I thought maybe I’d stumbled across some sort of radio promotion or, this being LA, the taping of some mediocre television. There was a crowd of around 200 people 2014-07-17 15.51.31outside the East Hollywood subway station when I got there and the crowd kept growing, a stark sight at three in the afternoon, a time when, if people had jobs, they would probably be at them. But jobs are hard to come by these days, particularly in this part of town home to a large number of immigrants from Thailand and the Americas but very few employers – and even fewer willing to offer more than $9 an hour for a retail job.

What I came across was the modern equivalent of the breadline. Minutes after arriving, I noticed there were several women making their way through the crowd wearing bright orange shirts emblazoned with “WIC” on the front of them; as it turns out, they were setting up a table not to give away a Kia, but to distribute vouchers for the adjacent farmers’ market as part of the federally-funded “Women, Infants and Children Program,” an initiative to provide poor mothers with healthy food. The program has nearly 1.5 million participants in California alone, most of whom appeared to be in East Hollywood that day.

2014-07-17 15.51.09The striking thing about it all, the thing that made me realize yet again that things are much worse than portrayed on the evening news, is that these impoverished women with young children waited in line for hours for just $20. Speaking to one of the woman, I learned they had actually been promised $40 in vouchers: $20 from WIC and another $20 from a program called “Market Match,” which had a table right next to the women with orange shirts. Unfortunately, the Market Match program only had $260 to hand out, which meant just 13 out of the hundreds of women who came got the full $40. “Come back next week,” they were told.

About an hour after I arrived, two deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department showed up; someone had called to complain about the sizeable crowd and so the armed wing of the government dutifully came looking to see if the actually-doing-some-good arm of the state had all the proper permits.2014-07-17 16.55.39

“Don’t you actually have any real crime to investigate?” one of the young mothers waiting in the WIC line asked the deputies, who were polite enough – a little apologetic, actually – but certainly not a welcome sight to those who are part of communities that the police traditionally like to harass. The deputies pretended not to hear the question, which was probably for the best (one of the young questioner’s friends told her to quiet down, pointing out she couldn’t take care of her kid if she were in jail).

The proper permits had been obtained, so the police soon left and money for the farmers’ market continued to be handed out. It was encouraging to see some good being done, even if it was only $20 worth of good, and reassuring to see that people actually do want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – if they can afford them. Of course, the discouraging thing about it all was that any of it was necessary; that women were being forced to wait hours for a paltry amount of money to feed their babies. But such is life for the millions of poor in this, the richest country in the world.

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