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Archive for December 5th, 2016

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

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In the Washington Post Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward offer a way Congress can trim the budget substantially:

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

The data showed that the Defense Department was paying a staggering number of people — 1,014,000 contractors, civilians and uniformed personnel — to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3 million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.

The cost-cutting study could find a receptive audience with President-elect Donald Trump. He has promised a major military buildup and said he would pay for it by “eliminating government waste and budget gimmicks.”

For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. Among other options, the savings could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal, or the operating expenses for 50 Army brigades.

But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 9:32 pm

And, speaking of ledes, check the lede to “The Mafia State,” by Chris Hedges

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Systems of governance that are seized by a tiny cabal become mafia states. The early years—Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the United States—are marked by promises that the pillage will benefit everyone. The later years—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—are marked by declarations that things are getting better even though they are getting worse. The final years—Donald Trump—see the lunatic trolls, hedge fund parasites, con artists, conspiracy theorists and criminals drop all pretense and carry out an orgy of looting and corruption. . .

That’s the lede to this article by Chris Hedges at TruthDig.com. It continues:

The rich never have enough. The more they get, the more they want. It is a disease. CEOs demand and receive pay that is 200 times what their workers earn. And even when corporate executives commit massive fraud, such as the billing of hundreds of thousands of Wells Fargo customers for accounts they never opened, they elude punishment and personally profit. Disgraced CEO John Stumpf left Wells Fargo with a pay package that averages nearly $15 million a year. Richard Fuld received nearly half a billion dollars from 1993 to 2007, a time in which he was bankrupting Lehman Brothers.

The list of financial titans, including Trump, who have profited from a rigged financial system and fraud is endless. Many in the 1 percent make money by using lobbyists and bought politicians to write self-serving laws and rules and by forming unassailable monopolies. They push up prices on products or services these monopolies provide. Or they lend money to the 99 percent and charge exorbitant interest. Or they use their control of government and the courts to ship jobs to Mexico or China, where wages can be as low as 22 cents an hour, and leave American workers destitute. Neoliberalism is state-sponsored extortion. It is a vast, nationally orchestrated Ponzi scheme.

This fevered speculation and mounting inequality, made possible by the two ruling political parties, corroded and destroyed the mechanisms and institutions that permitted democratic participation and provided some protection for workers. Politicians, from Reagan on, were handsomely rewarded by their funders for delivering their credulous supporters to the corporate guillotine. The corporate coup created a mafia capitalism. This mafia capitalism, as economists such as Karl Polanyi and Joseph Stiglitz warned, gave birth to a mafia political system. Financial and political power in the hands of institutions such as Goldman Sachs and the Clinton Foundation becomes solely about personal gain. The Obamas in a few weeks will begin to give us a transparent lesson into how service to the corporate state translates into personal enrichment.

Adam Smith wrote that profits are often highest in nations on the verge of economic collapse. These profits are obtained, he wrote, by massively indebting the economy. A rentier class, composed of managers at hedge funds, banks, financial firms and other companies, makes money not by manufacturing products but from the control of economic rents. To increase profits, lenders, credit card companies and others charge higher and higher interest rates. Or they use their monopolies to gouge the public. The pharmaceutical company Mylan, in a classic example, raised the price of an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat allergy reactions from $57 in 2007 to about $500.

These profits are counted as economic growth. But this is a fiction, a sleight of hand, like unemployment statistics or the consumer price index, used to mask the speculative shell game.

“The head of Goldman Sachs came out and said that Goldman Sachs workers are . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 5:19 pm

Actually, pretty cool: The Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Playing in 7 Isolated Tracks

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Take a listen to the tracks in this Open Culture post by Josh Jones.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Music

We look into the abyss, and the abyss looks into us. Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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Google reflects us to ourselves, in a way: an imperfect mirror but the best we’ve had. In the Guardian Carole Cadwalladr shows us our reflection:

Here’s what you don’t want to do late on a Sunday night. You do not want to type seven letters into Google. That’s all I did. I typed: “a-r-e”. And then “j-e-w-s”. Since 2008, Google has attempted to predict what question you might be asking and offers you a choice. And this is what it did. It offered me a choice of potential questions it thought I might want to ask: “are jews a race?”, “are jews white?”, “are jews christians?”, and finally, “are jews evil?”

Are Jews evil? It’s not a question I’ve ever thought of asking. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But there it was. I press enter. A page of results appears. This was Google’s question. And this was Google’s answer: Jews are evil. Because there, on my screen, was the proof: an entire page of results, nine out of 10 of which “confirm” this. The top result, from a site called Listovative, has the headline: “Top 10 Major Reasons Why People Hate Jews.” I click on it: “Jews today have taken over marketing, militia, medicinal, technological, media, industrial, cinema challenges etc and continue to face the worlds [sic] envy through unexplained success stories given their inglorious past and vermin like repression all over Europe.”

Google is search. It’s the verb, to Google. It’s what we all do, all the time, whenever we want to know anything. We Google it. The site handles at least 63,000 searches a second, 5.5bn a day. Its mission as a company, the one-line overview that has informed the company since its foundation and is still the banner headline on its corporate website today, is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It strives to give you the best, most relevant results. And in this instance the third-best, most relevant result to the search query “are Jews… ” is a link to an article from stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website. The fifth is a YouTube video: “Why the Jews are Evil. Why we are against them.”

The sixth is from Yahoo Answers: “Why are Jews so evil?” The seventh result is: “Jews are demonic souls from a different world.” And the 10th is from jesus-is-saviour.com: “Judaism is Satanic!”

There’s one result in the 10 that offers a different point of view. It’s a link to a rather dense, scholarly book review from thetabletmag.com, a Jewish magazine, with the unfortunately misleading headline: “Why Literally Everybody In the World Hates Jews.”

I feel like I’ve fallen down a wormhole, entered some parallel universe where black is white, and good is bad. Though later, I think that perhaps what I’ve actually done is scraped the topsoil off the surface of 2016 and found one of the underground springs that has been quietly nurturing it. It’s been there all the time, of course. Just a few keystrokes away… on our laptops, our tablets, our phones. This isn’t a secret Nazi cell lurking in the shadows. It’s hiding in plain sight. . .

Continue reading.

Can this species be saved?

The internet is an extraordinarily rich environment for memes, so they’re evolving rapidly—and some of the resulting memes are not benign.

Do read the whole thing. There’s a lot more to the article than the taste above.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 3:25 pm

A bad headline to see: “The Companies Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline Don’t Think They’ve Lost”

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The article by Daniel Gross appears in Slate:

n Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers seemed to hand a victory to the Standing Rock Sioux and their fellow protesters, who have been campaigning to stop the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota. After delaying a decision on Nov. 14, a week after the election, the Army Corps has now said it won’t grant an easement for the pipeline to travel beneath a dammed portion of the Missouri River. The parties behind the Dakota Access Pipeline should look into alternative routes, the corps said.

But the saga is far from over. In fact, the reaction by the two companies constructing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, was telling. Dismissing the ruling as a “purely political action” that was part of the Obama administration’s desire to avoid making a final decision on the project, the companies insisted it would have no bearing on their plans whatsoever. They said they are “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

In other words, the companies believe that they, not the government nor the Native American tribes whose land could be impacted by the pipeline, make the decision. They’ve deemed the ruling illegitimate because it was made by an administration with which they disagree, and they signaled they will move ahead regardless. Investors seem to agree. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 2:47 pm

At Liberty University, All Sins Are Forgiven on the Altar of Football

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Michael Powell has a great piece in the NY Times:

There was grand news out of Lynchburg, Va., last week: Liberty University announced that it had hired Ian McCaw, a “godly man of excellent character,” as its athletic director.

Liberty, which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university, has large appetites, and it desires to vault into the big time. And McCaw, a man with the angular build and cobalt blue-eyed intensity of an ultramarathon runner, has achieved much success in his three decades in college sports.

“My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference in Lynchburg.

McCaw is well acquainted with Christian athletics. In May, he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, another eminent Christian university. His departure followed a devastating investigation that found that the leaders of the football team and the athletic department had looked away when told of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault.

I would not bury a man without offering a dollop of praise. During McCaw’s tenure, the football team prospered mightily. There were a Heisman Trophy winner, two Big 12 championships and breathless news media coverage of its down-home coach, Art Briles, and his whiskey-cured voice. And Baylor University leveraged that success into a $260 million stadium of the sort that spots the landscape of Texas like pimples on the rear of a steer.

Liberty plays football in Division I’s second rung. The university is run by Jerry Falwell Jr., a godly sort who understands the need for occasional accommodation with the secular world. Earlier this year he strolled around the Republican National Convention with his candidate, Donald J. Trump, a thrice-married man whom numerous women have accused of sexually harassing them.

This did not please Liberty’s students, who are expected to abide by the Liberty Way, which sets strict personal guidelines including, but not limited to, no NC-17 movies, no face piercings, no naughty music, and absolutely no canoodling, such as hanging out alone with a person of the opposite sex. Getting caught in a “state of undress” with the opposite sex is good for a $250 fine and 18 hours of community service.

When a Liberty student penned an editorial critical of Trump for the campus newspaper, Falwell censored it. (Liberty University also teaches Young Earth creationism, which is the belief that God created the universe, Earth and life in the last 10,000 years.)

The hiring of McCaw has also proved contentious. As the university’sFacebook page filled up with angry comments, Falwell felt compelled to offer explanations on the university’s website. He said Liberty had conducted an “investigation.” It found that McCaw was a fine man. Far from being pushed out of Baylor, Falwell said, McCaw’s “decision to resign was his own choice.”

“If he made any mistakes at Baylor,” Falwell said — let us pause here to appreciate his use of the conditional — “they appear to be technical and unintentional.” There is not an athletic director in America, Falwell added, who better understands the importance of complying with federal guidelines on reporting any sexual assault on a campus.

And thus tin is transmuted into gold.

At this point, it’s worth recalling the summary that Baylor provided about its confidential investigation. The law firm Pepper Hamilton, which oversaw the inquiry, said it had found that the “the choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.”

The report’s summary gloried in passive language, and in an act of apparent Christian charity, it omitted all names and, therefore, any accountability.

But this is what it meant, if not what it said: Athletic leaders (that would be McCaw) and football coaches learned of accusations of gang and date rape and decided not to report that violence; they met with the alleged victims, and their parents, and still did nothing.

The football team existed in the same hermetic world found at too many top college programs. This, the report found, “reinforces the perception” — and, of course, the reality — “that rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players.”

McCaw, who had spoken of his hand-in-glove working relationship with Briles, oversaw all of this. When Briles chose to bring in Sam Ukwuachu, a talented defensive end who transferred from Boise State, all involved should have known his background, which was deeply troubling.

At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, Ukwuachu was a terror to opposing quarterbacks, and to women with the misfortune to make his acquaintance. At Boise State, he was found to have beaten a former girlfriend. He was nonetheless welcomed at Baylor. While forgoing football for the year required of athletic transfers, he sexually assaulted a freshman soccer player. According to Texas Monthly, Baylor officials made a few not-so-pointed inquiries and cleared Ukwuachu. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 1:38 pm

Edward Snowden points out that David Petraeus “shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did”

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And unlike Hillary Clinton’s inclusion of some classified information (some of which was retroactively classified) in emails on her personal server and thus ran risks of a leak, David Petraeus quite deliberately and knowingly delivered classified material to his mistress, for God’s sake! And nothing (essentially) was done. He lost his job, he paid a fine ($100,000, easily covered by speaking fees), and got probation, and now he’s considered for Secretary of State?! That position, as the GOP has pointed out frequently in their punitive investigations of the emails, involves loads of classified materials.

Anyway, Matthew Rozsa writes at Salon:

Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked tens of thousands of documents revealing that the American government has spied on its own citizens, told Katie Couric on Yahoo News on Monday that retired Gen. David Petraeus, Donald Trump’s potential pick for secretary of state, disclosed far more classified information despite receiving a much lighter punishment.

“We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States,” Snowden said to Couric, “where people who are either well-connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments.”

Snowden went on to juxtapose how he was treated by the federal government with the punishments received by Petraeus, who shared classified information with his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

“Perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is Gen. Petraeus — who shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists,” Snowden said. “And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover for personal benefit — conversations that had information, detailed information, about military special-access programs, that’s classified above top secret, conversations with the president and so on.”

Snowden went on to say that, “When the government came after him, they charged him with a misdemeanor. He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed.”

In a Yahoo News piece on Monday discussing the Snowden interview, Michael Isikoff disputed Snowden’s analysis. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 1:31 pm

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