Sunday, May 28, 2017

Slumlords, Spies, and Subterfuge

 Jared Kushner, jack of all White House trades and master of none, is the latest topic of the official narrative conversation. He "is said to" have established back-channel communications with those damned Russians during the transition period. According to experts on such things, this might not have been totally illegal, but it was certainly unethical and outside the norms of how corruption gets done in official Washington.

Don't get me wrong - I think that Jared is a perfectly loathsome human being. It's just too bad, and actually kind of silly, that the FBI's investigation is not aimed squarely at his serial financial assaults on the poor tenants of his multitude of substandard rental units. An exhaustive investigation published last week by journalist Alex MacGillis reveals that Kushner has amassed a team of lawyers whose sole purpose is to hound tenants for back rent, late payments, and alleged damage to their units. In many cases, the harassment continues for years after they have left his premises.

One of Jared Kushner's goals in life seems to be the financial and emotional destruction of the most vulnerable members of society -  some of whom were and still are Trump supporters. MacGillis reports:
In 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.
His slumlord enterprise has grown exponentially, with much help from federal subsidies and tax breaks readily available to wealthy real estate moguls.  Kushner coldly describes his low income tenants as "an asset class" with much money-making potential deriving from evictions, withheld security deposits, and other legal remedies. MacGillis continues,
 There is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease — even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side. Not only does the company file cases against them, it pursues the cases for as long as it takes to collect from the overmatched defendants — often several years. The court docket of (one case) forinstance, spans more than three years and 112 actions — for a sum that amounts to maybe two days’ worth of billings for the average corporate law firm associate, from a woman who never even rented from JK2 Westminster. The pursuit is all the more remarkable given how transient the company’s prey tends to be. Hounding former tenants for money means paying to send out process servers who often report back that they were unable to locate the target. This does not deter Kushner Companies’ lawyers. They send the servers back out again a few months later.
But forget about that. It is because gentrification, and the privatization of this nation's public housing stock, and the deliberate absence of a federal guaranteed housing policy are bipartisan enterprises, that it's more expedient to get rid of Trump and his clan by the tried-and-true scapegoating methods perfected during the Inquisition and later during the McCarthy era. If we can only learn to fear and loathe Russia and its treacherous Trumpian stooges more than we fear and loathe the all-American policies leading to the worst wealth inequality in history, perhaps we won't take to the streets in protest of what is really rotten in the state of Neoliberalism.

We'll be so shocked and awed at the treason at the highest levels of the Trump administration that we might forget that our rent payments are eating up greater and greater chunks of our monthly incomes. We might forget that the abusive rental market is the natural outgrowth of the subprime mortgage market, and that unprosecuted banksters now act as landlords on the same housing they so recently foreclosed. Oligarchs like Kushner have discovered that the extraction process can go on, and on, and on. Poverty is such a lucrative industry for them.

Right before he left office, President Obama secretly gifted the private equity giant Blackstone with another massive government bailout. This gift subsidizes any losses that investors might suffer as a result of evictions and neglected repairs of their plundered housing stock. It does nothing to help the victimized tenants of predatory "rent-to-own" scams. As a matter of fact, the bailout ensures that Blackstone slumlords can continue gobbling up distressed properties at no risk to themselves with the added benefit of artificially inflating real estate prices for regular home-buyers (just another "asset-class") faced with ever-dwindling choices.

It also perpetuates the class resentments that gave rise to Donald Trump. Since Blackstone and other real estate investors now control whole swathes of foreclosed and distressed properties, the resulting increases in rent ensure that manufactured competition between low income and medium income people will continue to grow.

For his own sleazy part, Trump continues to feed these class resentments through what Hannah Arendt has called "negative solidarity." For example, we the teeming oppressed masses are invited to join him, a billionaire demagogue, in common cause against mutual enemies.

In his latest fundraising email, slugged "Kicking and Screaming," Trump writes:
 This month... the media tried to stop us.

...The establishment tried to stop us.

...The bureaucracy even tried to sabotage us from within.

But WE THE PEOPLE FOUGHT BACK! AND WE ARE STILL STANDING AND WILL KEEP FIGHTING UNTIL WE MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

The Washington elites will go kicking and screaming until they’ve all been dethroned.

Right now, we’re just $142,693 away from hitting our FEC end-of-month goal. Will you contribute any amount -- I mean it,
Karen, any amount you can -- to help us end the month so strong that the Fake News Media Machine falls into a complete panic? Can you donate $1 to Drain the Swamp?

Meanwhile and ever so coincidentally (of course) Trump and Kushner are solidly and intimately involved with Blackstone, which plans to invest some of "its" excessive cash into a joint Saudi Arabian venture to loot even larger chunks of crumbling American real estate and public infrastructure. This glaring scandal, too, is taking a back seat to the more pressing concern of nefarious "Russian back channels."

I wonder why that is.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it seems quite odd that the media would launch into its latest phase of Russophobic mania within days of the shocking revelations that Kushner is taking total advantage of thousands of poor people, and that a new breed of Robber Baron owns and controls us, thanks to socialized risk-taking for private gain. Channeling the official conversation away from the escalating war on the poor back to #RussiaGate has the added bonus of protecting oligarchs and Uniparty politicians who indulge their own predatory appetites in a more circumspect fashion than the boorish Trump family seems capable of.

Like father, like son-in-law, like unfettered capitalism itself. The umbel never falls too far from the parental hemlock plant. It takes root and multiplies like the noxious weed that it is.



 

Monday, May 22, 2017

N.Y. Times Is No Longer Impeachment Keen

I see that the New York Times, after months of igniting anti-Trump hysteria to a fever pitch among its readers, is now marching in lockstep behind the Democratic Party leadership. 

In an abrupt about-face, the newspaper's editorial board is softening, if not abandoning, its campaign to destroy his presidency.

Just because the man is impaired is no reason for him to be impeached. Especially not while he is doing the business of the military-industrial complex overseas and selling weapons and American infrastructure deals to the highest foreign bidders. Whenever Donald Trump adopts the traditions of neoconservatism and neoliberalism, the corporate media declare a truce. They euphemise the hypocrisy by using the hackneyed term "reset."

Whenever Donald Trump bombs a country or holds tempting dollar signs out to his critics, he magically becomes Presidential. Reset early, reset often.

So within days of being castigated for insanely spilling state secrets and calling James Comey a nutcase, Trump is at least temporarily seen as rehabilitating himself in the eyes of the ruling establishment. He's maturely forgoing his Tweets and resetting his agenda to more sober goals. Trump has rid himself of extreme anti-Muslim sentiment by abandoning the odious phrase "radical Islamic extremism" and resetting his rhetoric to a more modest "Islamic extremism." Although his anti-Muslim travel ban elicited universal outrage from the whole free world, his sale of billions of dollars in weaponry to the autocratic Saudis has only elicited a yawn here, a moue of fake concern there.

Trump hasn't quite reached the level of Watergate egregiousness, so let's give the psychopath a chance, moralizes the Times. Be patient, everybody. As long as the market hasn't crashed and rich are still growing richer under his regime, no state of emergency need be declared.

The media-political complex seems to have reached its next stage of Hillary loss grief. It has overcome depression and denial, and is now straddling the fence between bargaining and acceptance. What I've called the "Deep State" interregnum in the form of an official investigation by a trusted member of the plutocracy (Robert Mueller) is having the desired calming effect on The Times.

As its editorialists pontificate:
The national interest and the integrity of the democratic process are undeniably at stake in the investigation. And it may turn out that the president and his associates have engaged in an attempt to obstruct justice; really bad stuff could turn up. But Watergate? We’re not there yet. That’s a word that summons obstruction on a monumental scale, with evidence to prove overt criminal acts — not least the White House conspiracy to burglarize the Democratic Party headquarters. Scores of administration officials were indicted or jailed when President Nixon had to flee from office on the eve of certain impeachment.
It seems to me that the Gray Lady is confusing peaches with pears. The Trumpian graft and corruption being conducted right under our very noses ( awarding ownership and control of American infrastructure to a regime which cuts people's heads off and bombs Yemen into a state of famine and disease) is not quite as bad as Nixon giving cash bribes to burglars and then lying about it. That's because both sides of the Uniparty have long been selling this country out to the highest bidders, both foreign and domestic. If they make too big a deal out of Trump doing it too, it might endanger their own future profits.

They want American voters to get riled up and resistant, but not to get too riled up and too resistant. Their objective is to eventually replace Trump with a more refined, slimy politician - not to blow up the whole de facto oligarchy.

Plus, it is so much more convenient to just blame the Republicans and paint the Democrats as the virtuous, but powerless, opposition party. And look at what happened the last time the House impeached a president. Their hounding of Bill Clinton destroyed the dignity of the whole impeachment process. We can't make the mistake of impeaching over partisan pretenses ever again!

The Times editorial smarmily concludes,
For Democrats, too much indulgence of impeachment notions could prove a distraction from the more workaday and politically achievable challenge at hand. Their main job is to rouse the public to use Mr. Trump’s unimpressive polling numbers as leverage on Republicans, who already are citing the Mueller investigation as reason to slow down congressional inquiries into the Trump and Russia affair. Beyond that, they and other critics should be working hard to win back a majority next year in at least one house of Congress. This would secure them the subpoena power to shed far better light for the nation on Mr. Trump’s and his enablers’ sorry deeds.
It's not about justice and the greater good at all. That would be so self-indulgent. It's definitely not about campaigning on a platform of Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness, affordable housing, a guaranteed job, and a guaranteed income. It's all about the Democratic Party winning back power by fomenting fear and loathing of Trump while still keeping him around long enough to gin up optimum fear and loathing-- and tons of campaign cash.

 One person's "workaday challenge" might entail coming up with next month's rent check or insurance co-pay. What the plutocracy, represented by its Times mouthpiece, views as a workaday challenge is maintaining the status quo of its own unfettered wealth and power. 

As far as the New York Times is concerned, the only thing we need is to see the light. Food, shelter and medical care can wait for another day, another year, another decade. It's Democratic incrementalism you should believe in.

They want us to delay justice for Trump until the Democrats can be the stars of the show. Even if it risks electing him to a second term, it will be so worth it.

 Trump is certainly not the only sociopath for whom winning is everything and for whom the daily struggles of ordinary desperate people are just a pesky afterthought.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Most Ingenious Paradoxes

-- A reporter was pinned to the wall by security guards and later bodily ejected from the Federal Communications Commission building after he dared to ask a question in a public hallway. An FCC official later explained that when it comes to the agency's brazen attempt to privatize the Internet, the de facto policy on journalistic questions is threat neutrality. A threat is a threat is a threat, First Amendment rights be damned. Therefore, the Federal Communications Commission is refusing to communicate any further about this incident.

-- Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman, profoundly announced to reporters that a private meeting in a public building with Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had "renewed my confidence that we should not have confidence in this administration.” This has renewed my confidence that whatever politicians choose to tell me about secret meetings with no press or cameras allowed is always absolutely true and factual.

-- Senator Lindsay Graham (R-Confederacy) sagaciously told MSNBC that he'd found former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates's own public Congressional testimony on #RussiaGate to be "incredibly credible."  Incredibly, he said this two times in quick succession, perhaps to ensure that his audience will always view his constant TV appearances as unbelievably tedious.

-- It is a truthiness universally acknowledged that Donald Trump is the most inept, dangerous, treasonous president in the history of America. But lacking sufficient evidence to back up this claim, the "sober-minded" elders of the Democratic Party are primly lecturing their punch-drunk colleagues and constituents to keep calm, carry on, shut up, and most important, continue raising money and sending money. Just because Dems are attacking Trump mercilessly 24/7 shouldn't communicate that they want to railroad him out of the White House, for goodness sake. Just because he's impaired doesn't mean he should be impeached. Of course it's the pits, but I'm afraid that you'll just have to keep sucking it all up. 



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Deep State Interregnum

The media-political complex is breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the Police-Surveillance State has the whole free world in its hands, having been awarded essential control of the federal government during this Trumpian crisis of leadership.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller's stated task is to investigate Donald Trump and his administration's connections to Russia. His overriding actual task, however, is to provide a place of greater safety during these perilous times for the Powers That Be and late-stage capitalism. He is being portrayed in the corporate media as a Moses with a badge who will shepherd us from the Trumpian desert of chaos back to the  promised land of good and plenty for a smarter, better, non-Tweeting oligarchy.

"Both Democrats and Republicans embrace Robert Mueller as Special Counsel" and "Mueller Hailed By Both Parties" and "Rare Bipartisan Moment" and "New Special Counsel Known For Independence" and "Both Sides Have Utmost Confidence in Mueller" and "Mueller Universally Respected" are the typical and ominous headlines lauding our new unelected Rescuer-in-Chief. He is the wet dream of the extreme center. After all, the FBI under Mueller's directorship concentrated more on scapegoating alleged foreign terrorists and manufacturing homegrown plots than it did investigating the true domestic economic terror unleashed on ordinary people by Wall Street and plundering multinationals.

That Mueller arrives at his new gig through the revolving door from a white shoe law firm which has represented Paul Manafort, himself suspected of Russian wheeling and dealing, along with Jared Kusher and Ivanka Trump, is apparently no cause of concern. These incestuous plutocratic relationships happen. They are pretty much unavoidable in the rarefied world of the .01%. I can already hear the wrist-slapping.

 So we proles are actually supposed to be happy and grateful, now that what is grotesquely called the "Intelligence Community" is taking over and effectively reducing Donald Trump to a quivering blob of jelly. The question remains as to whether this blatant "deep state" interregnum will be temporary or permanent.

The media's war against Trump has surged to epic, nearly vicious proportions in just a few short days, ever since he spilled alleged state secrets to Russian diplomats. Tune in to CNN for an hour, or scan the front pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The media mission is clear: remove Trump from office by any means necessary. Impeachment, criminal indictment, gaslighting, the 25th amendment - they're all on the table. The odds of him lasting out his term exponentially decrease with every passing day.

Nicholas Kristof, resident neoliberal concern troll of the New York Times, is typical of the gloating journalistic genre:
By firing James Comey as F.B.I. director, President Trump set in motion the appointment Wednesday evening of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Mueller is a Trump nightmare: a pro who ran the F.B.I. for 12 years and is broadly respected by both parties in Washington for his competence and integrity. If Trump thought he was removing a thorn by firing Comey, he now faces a grove of thistles.
One crucial lesson here: Pressure matters. It was public opinion that stalled the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, and it is public opinion in part that will ensure the integrity of this investigation.
It is, of course, the job of Kristof and his media cohort to mold this public opinion, to steer us toward accepting a national police state as the guardian of democracy.  All we should want is that this "cloud over the presidency be removed." Whether this cloud-removal will actually allow the bright sun of government by, for and of the people to ever shine through is not examined in his column. What should matter to us is not where our next meal or loan payment is coming from, but whether Trump and Putin were really in cahoots. Also, we should be bowing down in reverence to the Times and the Post for their intrepid publication of leaks about the crumbling of a man whom they themselves were instrumental in elevating to power.

I can actually envision Trump just quitting. He can't trust anyone. Every time he farts, it's in the New York Times. Whoever is leaking details of internal executive branch chaos to the media is so close to him that even the subtle shades of redness on his scowling face are being reported in the most minute detail.

Despite the fact that the Surveillance State has essentially suborned our remaining democratic processes, Mueller's investigation might at least drag on long enough to also do lasting political damage to Trump's dangerous successor(s). Vice President Michael Pence is even more terrifying than his boss because he knows the system so well. Unlike Trump, he's a diehard right-wing ideologue with friends in high establishment places and a proven ability to get some truly nasty things done. So let's at least hope that enough Trumpian dirt rub offs on Pence and those other two psychopaths, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, to irreparably weaken them right into some premature lucrative retirements.

One example of Trump not being able to get things done while this investigation proceeds is his plan to destroy the entire American public education system. His kleptocratic agenda makes the neoliberal No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top stealth attacks on education by the previous two administrations seem positively benign in comparison:
Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.
Members of Congress are becoming increasingly loath to work with the White House, given the pressing manufactured concerns about RussiaGate. So these competing witch hunts -- against both Trump, and against public spaces and programs -- may cancel one another out,  paradoxically end up being a very good thing for ordinary citizens despite the best malign intentions of the extreme centrists, After all, were it not for the drama of the Clinton impeachment, Social Security might well be privatized by now too. It was on the bipartisan table then, and it's on the table now.

The Democratic Party leadership, for its part, is passive-aggressively trying to tamp down the Trump feeding frenzy. One must not act too greedy or too hasty too soon before the 2018 midterms, they say, lest one appear too greedy or hasty and risk losing one's own tentative grasp on power. Let Mueller perform his role so Congress doesn't have to perform theirs.
 
So despite the five-alarm fire that Trump is accused of igniting, there's no cause for more than a spritz here or there to keep the funds of fear rolling in to the Democratic Party with every new Trump atrocity outrage.

In the short term, I suppose it's preferable that our ankle-biting elected officials remain too busy and too distracted going after each other and grabbing for power and posturing for the TV cameras to find enough free time to break any more promises to their constituents.
 
  But what about tomorrow, next month, next year, ten years from now?

To paraphrase Ezio Mauro, we citizens have our own bridge to cross, the one  leading from the landscape of inchoate anger and occasional protest to a place of hope, projects and proposals, and mutual aid, a place where we can actually change things.

As J.M. Coetzee writes in Diary of a Bad Year, "The question why life must be likened by a race, or why the national economies must race against one another rather than going for a comradely jog together, for the sake of health, is not raised. Why does the world have to be a kill-or-be-killed gladiatorial amphitheatre rather than, say, a busily cooperative beehive or anthill?" 

Perhaps we can take a break from the very important people's hysteria over RussiaGate and change the conversation entirely while they are so busily and deliberately not paying sufficient attention to us.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Headfake Follies

I'm trying to get the gory details about the latest palace intrigue straight.

My take: Our A.D.D. president breaches national security by dishing to the Russians about some top secret classified intel involving yet another laptop terror plot. And then the media-political complex clutches their pearls and shrieks that Trump has endangered an "ally" even as they themselves dish to the whole entire world about the alleged plot which Trump dished to the Russians. It is not a breach of national security or a betrayal of secrets, apparently, when the right politicians and the approved media outlets dish out state secrets for all the right and high-falutin' reasons.

It's not as though, before Trump's faux pas, we proles couldn't connect the dots and figure out the reason that the airlines were suddenly banning laptops from international flights. It's not as though the media didn't report, all day and every day, the geographical locales where ISIS has set up shop. (Trump apparently let slip the geographical source of the "intel," thus endangering our foreign spy friends.)

The sources for the latest White House leak to the Washington Post, the New York Times and other major media outlets are an anonymous current official and an anonymous past official. We can thus surmise that the current official dished state secrets to the past official, in order that the media could confirm the story and responsibly dish it out to the rest of us in one unified, neat, prepackaged, journalistically "ethical" narrative.

To make the intrigue even more fun, Trump's top security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, immediately denied that Donald had dished. And then this morning Donald promptly threw McMaster under the bus by tweeting, that yes, he had indeed dished to the Russians. Because as president, he can say whatever he wants to whomever he wants. He broke no laws.

That might be true, say the Miss Mannerses of the Deep State. But what an egregious breach of spying etiquette. We the consuming audience are given   only two choices: Trump is either a clueless oaf, or he is a deliberate traitor. From the New York Times:
 It was not clear whether Mr. Trump wittingly disclosed such highly classified information. He — and possibly other Americans in the room — may have not been aware of the sensitivity of what he was sharing. It was only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, that it was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the former official said.
Hmm. Sounds a lot like those Hillary Clinton emails, which were only deemed "classified" after she unwittingly pushed Send. Sounds a lot like Obama's head of Intel, James Clapper, when he falsely told Congress that the NSA does not "wittingly" collect the private communications of every man, woman and child in America. Clapper is now esconced in his new gig as a latter-day John Dean, telling the Sunday shows that there is not only a cancer on the presidency, but that Trump himself is the core disease.

It should be obvious by now that Trump enjoys chaos for the sake of chaos. He keeps even his most powerful advisers and his most intimate confidantes on their toes at all times. If nobody tries to sabotage him on any given day, then he's always happy to do the honors himself. It's the ratings, baby!

There is no such thing as bad publicity when it concerns Donald J. Trump. And the more he appears to be persecuted by the Washington establishment, the more his fans come to his defense.

And while the media-political complex tries to foment ever more Russophobic outrage among the citizenry, Congressional impeachment still appears to be off the table. In a CNN Town Hall appearance on Monday night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi admitted that there is no proof - yet - that Trump has committed an offense egregious enough or sufficiently outside the norms of the usual political graft and corruption to justify any official attempt to remove him from office:
 If you're talking about impeachment, you're talking about, what are the facts? Not, I don't like him and I don't like his hair and -- you know, I think, what are the facts? I don't like what he said about this. What are the facts that you would make a case on? What are the rules that he may have violated? If you don't have that case, you're just participating in more hearsay.
If Pelosi refused to consider impeaching George W. Bush for the illegal invasion of Iraq, for torture, and for other war crimes when her party still enjoyed a majority, the chances of them going after Trump are slim to none. As I mentioned the other day, he is a very useful idiot. Every time he says or does something outrageous, the Democrats and their veal pen offshoots go into fund-raising overdrive. Where, for example, would Hillary Clinton's new dark money anti-Trump SuperPac be without Donald to kick around all day and every day? And as far as the Republicans are concerned, the more that Trump can distract the country, the more secretly they can go about ripping up the social contract behind their closed doors.

If the media spent even a tenth of their energy on exploring the root cause of terrorism - unfettered American militarism for the benefit of a reckless oligarchy - they probably wouldn't be wasting so much of their time and ours trying to convince us that Donald Trump is some sort of anomaly. 

All they know how to do is gaslight us to death. If we are made to fear Trump all day and every day, perhaps we'll forget all about the rest of our workaday problems.

Not likely. And their desperation is definitely showing, all day and every day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Neoliberal's Guide to Resisting Trump

#Resistance alert! The Trump administration plans to axe stringent nutrition requirements for school lunches as well as delay the already-delayed consumer labeling of salty, sugary prepackaged food product. 

 This rollback of one of former First Lady Michelle Obama's signature initiatives is not only putting Our Kids' health at risk. It's also damaging the public relations campaigns of tax-averse, rent-seeking transnational corporations and the titans of the global plutonomy.

Somebody has got to scold Donald Trump. scold him hard, and scold him often. Not impeach him, mind you, because he is a serious crisis just too good to let go to waste. We must keep him around awhile longer and give all the professional virtue-signalers a quick and easy target. Because this president is not just a fish in a barrel, he's a bloated barracuda in a blimp. A target this easy and this entertaining likely won't come our way again for a very long time.

So Mrs. Obama has been getting lots of praise this week for valiantly and sarcastically standing up to Trump at her annual Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) confab. While not directly naming him or any of his gang, she accused his regime, in no uncertain terms, of not caring whether Our Kids are eating "crap." It's a new edgy Michelle, going outside the former first lady box of politesse.

Bold, feisty, and unleashed are just some of the verbal accolades being showered upon Mrs. Obama by the media.

What she said was true and admirable as far as it went. But she would have been far bolder had she also mentioned the ongoing crisis of childhood hunger in America. She failed to mention that one out of every four school-aged kids in the United States is now considered "food insecure." Too many families simply cannot afford the fresh, healthy whole grains, lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables which Michelle Obama prescribes for them. The bottom 80 percent of income earners haven't gotten a raise in decades. The inequality gap is increasing all the time. The price of food continues to outpace parents' ability to adequately feed their children.

At no time during Michelle Obama's appearance at last week's culinary summit - or for that matter, at no time during her entire eight-year tenure as the self-proclaimed Mom in Chief -- did she ever call upon Congress to increase federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is not surprising, given that her economically conservative husband actually cut spending on food stamps in several of his austerity budget proposals. Even after the neoliberal austerity craze was soundly debunked as oligarchic flimflam, Obama still slashed an additional $8.7 billion from the program last year. In the first year of his administration, during the height of the financial crisis, he'd even re-allocated stimulus funds earmarked for extra SNAP benefits toward implementation of Michelle's "Let's Move" exercise campaign.

She soon expanded that White House initiative to a philanthro-capitalist franchise called the Partnership for a Healthier America, which she still chairs alongside former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and current New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Frist, a Republican who resigned in disgrace after the reactionary Terry Schiavo fiasco, is now a wealthy lobbyist who also sits on the boards of various charities and for-profit research facilities.  Booker, considered a prime contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is a Wall Street-funded liberal whose most recent claim to fame was his vote to kill a measure allowing importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. As a participant in the so-called Food Stamp challenge a few years ago, he expressed shock that his $30 weekly stipend barely covered the cost of a small bottle of the imported olive oil he apparently cannot live without.

Donald Trump's value as the useful idiot in the Neoliberal Thought Collective is what actually helps keep the corporate wing of the Democratic Party going. Michelle Obama is not advocating for enhanced direct financial aid to struggling families for the very simple reason that the rich donors who fund her Partnership for a Healthier America initiative do not want "their" money spent directly on poor people via increased taxes.

 They do, however, desperately need to be perceived as good corporate citizens who care about the ever-growing ranks of needy Americans. If they can increase their profits and improve their brands through their self-aggrandizing association with the popular Obamas, so much the better for their bottom lines.

The PHA mission statement says it all:
 The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis.
Although there is a correlation between poverty and obesity, nowhere on the PHA website are the words "poverty" or "income inequality" ever mentioned. Also missing in action are corporate greed, plutocracy and oligarchy. So let all good-thinking billionaires direct the public wrath directly at the decadent corpus of Dorito addict Donald J. Trump. Let us all accuse him of wanting to hook the youth of America on junk food. By channeling our hatred, let us all feel so good about ourselves as we continue paying slave wages to the workers of the world.

As an added incentive, potential donors are reminded on several Partnership web pages that "90% of consumers are more likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality."

So let's take a look at just who is benefiting from this neoliberal health initiative ostensibly aimed at preventing a country full of sick, fat, lazy kids.

Walmart 

Despite its anti-obesity pledge to Michelle Obama, the retail grocery behemoth is a huge source of diet-related health problems. Although Mrs. Obama successfully got them to agree - one day, in the future - to put nutrition information labels on their foodstuffs, people on limited incomes are still forced to opt for cheaper food high in salt and fat.  So because of Walmart's meaningless promises, the onus is more than ever before on the poor for their "poor choices," and the Walton family can still pretend they care. No matter that they own as much wealth as the bottom 40% of American families, that they pay below-subsistence wages to their employees, and that they want to destroy public education as we know it. They're graciously allowing themselves to be touted by Partnership for a Healthier America as social service champions. Ka-ching!

Nestle 

 This company is literally sucking drought-stricken California even drier so as to continue making obscene profits on its bottled water subsidiary. But who cares, because Michelle Obama is a huge fan of bottled water herself.  Her own branded subsidiary, called "Drink Up!" puts its name right on the labels of most brands of bottled water you find in the grocery store. As an added attraction, the lead-poisoned residents of Flint, Michigan, are still being forced to use bottled water in lieu of getting their toxic pipes replaced.

Sodexo

 This Fortune 500 multinational was the most recent recipient of the PHA's coveted Partner of the Year Award. To qualify for this honor, a company must have proven that it "is working to ensure the health of our nation’s youth, making healthier choices more affordable and accessible to families and children across the country. The partner must demonstrate how it is executing key strategies beyond the PHA commitment, including focusing on those populations disproportionately impacted by obesity; doing well while doing good; using an innovative approach to address childhood obesity; or creating a ripple effect within their industry."

Here's how Sodexo has been doing ripplingly well (profiting) these past few years. Among Sodexo's innovative impacts are wages so abysmally low that its workers have gone out on strike on several occasions. Students at nine American colleges and universities have boycotted the company in recent years to show worker solidarity and also to protest Sodexo's lucrative investment in private, for-profit prisons.

Sodexo once sued to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and accused it of racketeering for daring to organize its workers. And in 2012, right down the street from me at the State University of New York at New Paltz, a Sodexo regional manager personally disrupted a student demonstration by tearing up protest signs. The following year, Sodexo hamburger was outlawed in Great Britain after inspectors detected horse DNA in the beef patties. There have also been several reports of physical prisoner and military recruit abuse by Sodexo employees.

But look over there, Mrs. Obama -- it's the dastardly Donald, not caring one crap about all the crap Our Kidsare eating. What's wrong with this guy, anyway, ignoring scores of corporate pledges to reduce sodium content by the year Zero at the very latest. Still, if all goes according to Neoliberal Thought Collective plan, the more frequently that he goes low, the better they will look as their profits soar as high as a gigantic snort of the highest grade capitalist cocaine.

They are in no great hurry to get rid of Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, besides the three corporate luminaries I listed above,  there are plenty of other plutocratic do-gooders clamoring for their share of the greed-washing attention and a chance at winning this year's Key Strategizing Award. Many of them are start-ups specifically created to pad PHA's list of sponsors, while others are subsidiaries of the parent donors, and still others are public relations front groups simply posing as companies. (see my final entry for an example of the front group genre.)

 Here's a sampling from the complete list:

Aagwatt

 A Chicago-based bottled water startup whose modest and circumspect mission is to "educate, satiate and innovate for the betterment of humanity..... We strive to fuse the service of free education into everyday consumer products to bolster, foster, and reinforce an academic learning experience. At AAGWATT™, we strive to make sure our products and brands speak to the 'student experience' and in turn to help students achieve their academic goals. Our first product, which is already on the market in select locations, is HYDROCATION® bottled water. HYDROCATION® is AAGWATT™’s flagship brand that places key educational concepts on product labels that are designed to help facilitate the student’s mission to obtain their degree. The HYDROCATION® educational labels are interactive; if you scan the image on the product label you can learn more information about that particular area of study and concept."

What the aagwatt!  Michelle should immediately send Donald Trump a whole case of this educational water to counteract both his excessive salt-saturated Dorito thirst and his profound ignorance. This brilliant beverage seems guaranteed to correct his Tweeting grammar overnight as it stuffs his massive head chock-full of reality and other facts. Whoever said Trump has a monopoly on bullshit simply isn't drinking enough of the right stuff.

American Beverage Association

  Donald should actually love this lobbying conglomerate, because its members' massively unhealthy drinks are made in America, sold in America, and massively, massively consumed in America. Their products are one of the leading causes of obesity and Type II Diabetes and hypertension in America. But to help deflect our attention from these facts, the ABA has partnered with Michelle Obama's health club to put their pricey bottled water on the shelves next to all their sugary sodas. Their official motto is actually very similar to that of the Democratic Party: "We Find Strength in Unity." You have to admit that this is the perfect snappy comeback to Trump's own "Ignorance Is Strength" shtick.

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield

The least that this medical insurance behemoth could do was add its name to healthy greed-washing, given the record profits it has enjoyed under the Affordable Care Act. When Michelle Obama was so sarcastically dissing Donald at her health summit, she was also implicitly championing the rights of increasingly consolidated and rightly endangered private insurance. Anthem and other predators couldn't turn a profit without a constant supply of healthy young human bodies from which to suck monetary nourishment in the form of onerous co-pays and deductibles.

Blue Sea Development

Here's another corporation that should be right up Trump's alley. It's a New York-based real estate development company which, like Trump, receives generous corporate welfare assistance via tax credits. It inveigled its way into Michelle Obama's consortium by pledging to build playgrounds and hydroponic gardens, with 25 percent of its units designated as "affordable,' thereby more than qualifying it for the government subsidies not available to mere tenants. Among the investors is too big to fail/jail megabank JP Morgan Chase.

Haws 

Hee hee. This is just one of the many private water product companies affiliated with the Drink Up! subsidiary of  Michelle Obama's health partnership. For a limited time only, all orders will be accompanied by a free personal emergency eyewash bottle. Could there be any more perfect remedy for chronic Trump fatigue? The company also sells "Hydration Stations" for use in office settings, as well as socially responsible fancy hygiene faucets called EyePods.


Hyatt Hotels

This chain has pledged to serve guests' children poolside snacks containing 16% fewer calories and 25% less sodium than, say, a Trump-owned property with Doritos coming out the wazoo. It helps immensely that Hyatt is owned and run by Chicago's Pritzker family, early financial backers of Barack Obama, who duly appointed billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker as his second term commerce secretary, once she'd settled that nasty labor dispute with hotel workers. Serving healthy snacks will no doubt attract many more good-thinking guests to the pool.

KinderCare Learning Centers

This is a for-profit national chain of day care centers. Acquired by sometime Donald Trump advisor and convicted junk bond king Michael Milken for $1 billion in 2005, it's the largest chain of its kind in the United States.  Although its teacher salaries and worker morale are reportedly far below national norms, management has nevertheless agreed to serve healthier snacks. Mothers will therefore flock to its doors knowing that both the chain and its chained providers are part of Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative. Donald Trump should really consider investing in this exploitative outfit, in case he hasn't already done so. Show us those tax returns, Donald, to prove that you care about Our Kids!

Kwik Trip

Not to be confused with the Simpsons' Kwik-E Mart, nor with the store in the movie Clerks which sells cigarettes to four-year-olds. To help Kwik and similar overpriced convenience emporia salvage their horrendous reputations, Michelle Obama has convinced them to stock their shelves with a few fruit and veggie choices to make it appear as though they care about Our Kids™. There was no agreement, of course, to actually reduce the mainstay junk food selections, especially an in-store brand temptingly called Urge. Because, you know, investors can never quit the urge to extract every last crumb.

Lamar Advertising

Owns and maintains 325,000 highway eyesores all across our dystopian American landscape. So keep your bottle of emergency designer eyewash handy! But seriously, Donald Trump should be interested, because this billboard company also doubles as a real estate investment trust fund. So when his administration flacks insist they still have utmost respect for Michelle Obama, I suspect that they sincerely mean every word of what they say.

Mars Food

In exchange for some great publicity and possible future awards, this candy manufacturing goliath has pledged to Michelle Obama that it will reduce the sodium content in its crap food products by "an average of  20%" by 2021! By making this promise, it purports to encourage healthy eating habits right now this very minute! Can you say awards gala? On the other hand, since Mars was also part of the corporate effort to prevent GMO labeling on its food products, Donald Trump is likely a huge fan in more ways than one. On the other, other hand, Trump is also apt to tetchily hate it, given that Obama's State Department had honored the company for promising, one of these days, to stop abusing its African cocoa bean pickers.


Mercedes Benz USA

It promised to make car buyers sign a pledge never, ever to let their kids eat crap food as they recline their sedentary selves in its luxurious, polluting gas guzzlers. Kidding! It actually "pledged $10.5 million to build a national, sports-based youth coaching force. That money is being distributed through grants to Laureus USA, which helps identify, train, place and support coaches and youth sporting organizations nationwide. Mercedes-Benz commits to training 1,000 coaches in after-school sporting programs in order to reach 150,000 children across the country."

Also too, it gives "capacity-building grants" to an outfit called Girls On the Run, which is not to be confused with actual human girls getting individual cash grants, or anything like that. Charities give to charities give to other charities. It's a nice legal way to launder whole carloads full of money.

Nike, Inc

Pledged to give a few more millions to the obesity charity in exchange for more free publicity. Michelle Obama famously joined its ad campaign in Chicago on the exact same day that Mayor Rahm Emanuel shut down 50 public schools and fired a bunch of teachers. Overpriced Nike sneakers made by Asian wage slaves will help Chicago kids run faster through the gunfire on their way to their schools in distant neighborhoods. Not to be outdone, President Obama also pimped for Nike in a speech touting his doomed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now it seems the company will just have to wait for its 40 cents-an-hour Vietnamese factory work detail until another centrist wins the White House. Meanwhile, Obama reportedly is still being allowed to keep his custom inauguration footwear. The spiffy shoes should make a great exhibit for the new library as well as perpetuating the cult of Nike.




Reebok

In America the Good, there is no monopoly on cheap, overpriced  athletic footwear manufactured by low wage foreign workers for import to America. Therefore, not to be outdone by Nike's ad campaign, the Reebok company has also pledged millions of dollars to help get those poor fat lazy American kids up and moving before they even start their sprint to school.

Ricker Oil Company

You'd think that this convenience store operator would consider changing its name to something more appetizing, wouldn't you? Then again, since the plastic containers used for bottled designer water are petroleum-based, we should probably commend this company for truth in advertising.

The Honest Company

Donald Trump wouldn't know the meaning of this company even if he drank a gallon of Hydrocation chained to a KinderCare chair eating an Urge snack in a Ricker Oil convenience store. But frankly, neither would I.  From what I could gather from a quick read of the slick Honest web page, it's a consortium of 85 celebrities and athletes and other friends of Michelle Obama who have joined together in solidarity to promote the eating of fresh fruit and vegetables. They term their effort a "sexy marketing campaign." Because goodness knows, besides being tempted by benevolent overpriced sneakers, Our Kids must also be targeted with sexual come-ons in order to fool them into doing unpleasant things. 

Once you get past all the linky layers on this PHA page, you finally do discover what the Honest Company honestly is: it's a billion-dollar emporium selling "affordable" baby and cosmetics products to the financially comfortable and the socially responsible. Another PHA link takes you to a site marketing resistance-oriented fashion in colors representing the whole fruit and vegetable spectrum. One bright orange tee shirt shows a guy covering his eyes and saying "I Can't Hear You, Haters!"

Who knew that eating healthy could also be so damned edgy and protest-y and anti-Trumpian!

Honestly, though, has the Honest Company ever considered renaming itself the Cynical Company? Has the Partnership for a Healthier America ever thought that Partnership for Healthy American Plutocrats might be a more apt moniker for what they actually do? Because for all the celebrity glitz, glamor and natural organic bling they use as cover, kids always know bullshit when they smell it.


On that note, Happy Mothers Day to Sardonickists everywhere. Don't forget to drink up after you wake up and smell the sneakers.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

$urvival of the Fittest

By Jay - Ottawa

Stiff fingers tap out the first sentence on my keyboard, but the spell checker redlines the word 'dystopia.'  Hmm…it IS a word and I DID spell it correctly.  Was the Microsoft programmer who worked on this feature clueless about Orwell's "1984," or was the programmer directed to send unpleasant concepts and their exemplars down the memory hole?


Cormac McCarthy is the next to get redlined.  Well, OK.  His first name is rare this side of Dublin.  Despite the laurels placed on McCarthy's brow late in life, few people other than English majors read his troubling novels "Blood Meridian" and "The Road."


Actually, "The Road" is not dystopian literature.  It is more often categorized as post-apocalyptic realism, a giant step beyond dystopia to where the entire globe has been despoiled.  You might, if you behave, be allowed an ice-cream sundae in a dystopia.  The best you can hope for in a post-apocalyptic world is rancid ice cream under stale whipped cream and a rotting cherry on top.


Chris Hedges, a very serious man, also writes about dystopias but under the category of nonfiction.  He describes realities so dismal and hopeless you wish they were fiction.


As if we didn't have enough gloom from the Dark School of fiction and nonfiction, we now discover their disciples multiplying like bats out of a cave.  The newest dystopian writers obtain better material just by looking around.  The latest dark spirit to connect the available dots of politics, economics, climate change and human nature is a French philosopher, Bruno Latour.


Latour writes as though he was able to plumb the minds of the super rich.  Forget their supposed attraction to capitalism and avarice.  Something else is afoot, a plot, an altruistic conspiracy.  It goes like this.  Billions of people are accustomed to a standard of living the globe cannot support.  Recycling and cutbacks in carbon use are absurdist diversions for the masses.  The Greens are kidding themselves, not to mention the rest of us, with their solar panels and low-flush toilets.  The Paris Agreement of last year, signed by 195 nations, is an empty gesture to assure their populations that something is being done to push climate change out of sight.  However, the elites know better; the globe is long past the tipping point of climate apocalypse.


Something several orders more severe than alternate energy development is needed, and immediately, to pull back hard from the Sixth Extinction.  The elites are fully aware of the stakes.  They also know that the billions of people who make up the modern world cannot be encouraged, or even forced, to scale down sharply to a lifestyle from the Middle Ages.


What's the alternative for elites who appreciate these facts and exercise power?  It is twofold: to become billionaires and to head for the hills after amassing everything needed for survival.  Big money––not asceticism, virtue and fairness for all––will buy the few tickets available for survival of the few.  Here's Latour explaining why we must have deregulation, welfare cutbacks, climate denial and income disparity:


"If this plausible fiction is correct, it enables us to grasp the 'deregulation' and the 'dismantling of the welfare state' of the 1980s, the 'climate change denial' of the 2000s, and, above all, the dizzying increase in inequality over the past forty years.  All these things are part of the same phenomenon: the elites were so thoroughly enlightened that they realized there would be no future for the world and that they needed to get rid of all the burdens of solidarity as fast as possible …; to construct a kind of golden fortress for the tiny percent of people who would manage to get on in life …; and, to hide the crass selfishness of this flight from the common world, to completely deny the existence of the threat [of] climate change."



It is we, the billions of nobodies, who are the grasshoppers in Aesop's fable.  We plague the earth with our great numbers and boundless appetites.  The monied elites are the farsighted ants.  There is a noble purpose behind the surface chaos over which they preside.  For the sake of the human gene pool, lifeboat ethics must prevail.  The elites are laboring to cull our species as efficiently as possible.  They must act fast and remain steadfast in their purpose.  Ultimately, the preservation of humanity depends on the billionaires, "the tiny percent," in their "golden fortresses."  Think of that next time you are tempted by selfishness to protest against their deconstruction of society as we know it.


* Those of you under 70 years of age are advised not to read this essay.