Friday, August 31, 2012

Ta Ta, Tampa

I am not hung over from the tempest in the tea party pot because I did not indulge in the mendacious merriment. Well, not a lot anyway. I had the equivalent of about half a drink. My daughter and I wasted an hour last night, turning the sound down on the TV, and making up our own dialogue. For example, when Newt and Callista appeared, we had them selling their 498 Regnery books, discussing hairspray and its effect on their brain cells, shilling religious DVDs and autographed pictures, and generally talking dirty. But we turned the volume back up when the Mormon people came on with stories of how Mitt would occasionally deign to visit their relatives in the hospital. Particularly heart-rending was the one about how he helped a dying 16-year-old draft his will so that he could legally leave his gun to his little brother. Another time, he showed up at a congregant's house to help him move, even though he had a broken collarbone and was totally useless. An audience of millions of people were told that the self-effacing Mitt never, ever advertises his good deeds. We learn about them through osmosis. 

Gail Collins of the New York Times quipped that Mitt is the type of annoying neighbor who keeps showing up at your house with unwanted offers of help and all you can think is, My God, now I'm going to have to invite the guy over for dinner.

I finally watched the Clint Eastwood monologue. It's a conversation with an invisible Obama, with a non sequitur about getting out of Afghanistan tomorrow thrown in for good measure. At first you think you're watching an Aricept commercial. Then again, since the whole Republican campaign involves raving about a socialist Obama who unfortunately has never existed in the real world, maybe Clint is just funning with us, performing a parody of the typical Republican senile white guy. Here's the clip in case you're interested.

The much-touted outbreak of anarchy and terrorism in the streets of Tampa did not occur. It was confined to the arena itself. The "I Heart Mitt" signs, the funny hat people, the enraptured faces of the conventioneers, the grimacing Nixon-masked Romney were the real scary deals. Therefore, it was somewhat confusing that the only people ousted were the Code Pink hecklers. It turns out that there were more paramilitary thugs guarding the infrastructure than there were protesters. The looming hurricane reportedly kept the busloads of ordinary human beings away. 

 I am paraphrasing somebody (Dorothy Parker? Molly Ivins?)* when I think I can safely say that the only truthful words spoken during the entire Fellini-esque nightmare were "and" and "the." And even those two are debatable.

*(It was Mary McCarthy dissing Lillian Hellman. Thanks to Robert S. for this link.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Glory of Deceit

You know that Paul Ryan went too far last night when even Fox News is calling him out as a liar extraordinaire. He lied blatantly, he lied with a straight face, he lied with abandon. But the crowd roared. The whoppers don't matter. Just look at the expressions on the faces of the Gopper conventioneers. Pure, unadulterated enthusiasm masks their fear and anger. So bring on the mendacity. The Democrats, more circumspect salespeople, are skilled tweakers of the truth, while the Republicans openly brag about their disdain for wimpy facts.

Paul Ryan fans belong to the same hungry subset who elevated the turgid potboiler "Fifty Shades of Grey" into a runaway hit. It's a Harry Potter-like phenonemon for the majority of American adults who are proud non-readers. Both soft S&M and magic, be they financial, social or sexual, always sell, especially during hard times. There are some people who enjoy inflicting pain, and there are even more people who are fooled into thinking they deserve it and can even learn to enjoy it, given half a chance. It's the basis for all religion. Suffer now, go to heaven later. Give up your social safety net now, become a millionaire someday. It's the Rapture, stupid.

 When the prospect of pain is delivered through the persona of a folksy, halfway-decent looking politician or preacher who smiles a lot, there are always true wanna-believers who can be lulled into magically thinking that their own best interests are part of the equation. When the collection plate or the voter ballot is presented to them, they willingly give out of pure faith.

And as our politicians and their spinmeisters are reminding us over and over and over again, these are fine family men. Their wives and children seem to adore them. So we project ourselves onto the stage of non-existent middle class Americana and hope against hope that some day, our own prince will come.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Queen's Speech

I didn't watch the "Powerhouse Ann Romney WOWS!!" (according to the HuffPo) speech last night, because I can only take the Gopper Gala in dribs and drabs. I watch for a bit, and the specks of spittle coming out of the TV make my eyes feel all gritty, and I get as teary as Ann Romney when she writes out a tithing check.

But I have forced down my bitter bile, and watched it a day late and about as many dollars short as the Romneys' tax contributions. Are you surprised to learn that I was unimpressed?

Before going into the red meat ( I Heart Mitt and So Can You) of Ann's speech, let me get my obsession with dangling modifiers out of the way. This FLOTUS wannabe really needs a better speechwriter. An example:
As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?
No way! We, the Matriarch of the Upper Quintile of the Top 1% of Entitled American Manhood, shall not raise Welfare Wimps. Hear Us Roar! 

And just in case you didn't already know it, Ann and Mitt do not have a "storybook" (read: fairytale) marriage. They have a real marriage. And she actually shakes her expensively manicured, blood-red talons at the unworthy marriage folks (living in sin/gay) out there in Amurikah. She assaults you with the contrived hardships of her life, she bitterly laughs "heh heh heh" when she dwells upon eating off an ironing board in a basement apartment. There were apparently days that the nanny got sick and the Quints raised their voices. It actually rained in Romney World! But those were the good old days. She is proud to be a Welsh coalminer's granddaughter, and a daughter of a man who built it himself, and the wife of a man who built it himself with a trust fund. She fails to mention that Mitt's grandparents were on welfare for awhile when they fled back over the border from Mexico.

And not to be subtle about hubby's woman problem, Ann shrills "I love you women!" in about the same tone of voice that Tom Cruise used to proclaim his love for Katie Holmes before he jumped on Oprah's couch. And the camera pans over all the be-raptured female audience members, each holding an identical handmade "I Heart Ann" sign. 

Why do you people begrudge Mitt his success? If he took her out on a date and brought her home safely without pawing her, he should be a good-enough, non-serial killer date for you too. He works harder in order that we may work less hard, whatever that means. (actually she stumbled over that bit in her haste to get through what had to be a tormenting experience, and blurted out "It's true Mitt's been sex.... successful."  Hmmm.) Sorry, Ann. Just because you say he acted like a gentleman with you, doesn't mean he won't try to screw the rest of us.

The really freaky part of her speech was the backdrop, with monstrous blow-ups of Mitt and Ann standing stiffly side by side as teenage sweethearts. It was kitschy Art Deco, kind of like Leave it to Beaver getting lost in Fritz Lang's dystopian Metropolis. Ann came across as an aggrieved June Cleaver sticking up for her husband-son, Wally. The scamp always makes her laugh, heh heh heh. The "laugh" came out as a plaintive wail rather than a heartfelt guffaw. 

Then it's blessedly over. Mitt appears and hugs her, and they walk toward the giant blow-ups, which suddenly fade away. And then all we see are their silhouettes trying to find an exit from the stage.

We Are Wives, Daughters, Mothers, Sisters... We Serve Man!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Storm and Stress

Sturm und Drang: a romantic artistic movement in which subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion are given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism. In other words, Eternal Presidential Campaign Theatre. 

In the latest episode, President Obama portrays the rational adult character who calmly "addresses" Hurricane Isaac, pretending to negotiate with yet another irrational force of nature. According to the White House, he is taking the usual balanced approach. Choosing between a Category Five monster and a wimpy tropical storm, the president will split the difference, and proclaim victory when Isaac makes landfall as a Category Two. So eat your peas, Gulf Coasters. He has a three-day campaign swing ahead of him. As the New York Times tells us today, it's hard out there for a philosopher king.

Meanwhile, the irrationalists of the GOP are in full lunatic mode as they cavort in Tampa. Dueling coverage of the hurricane and the convention will exhibit the schizophrenia of the Republicans in all their split personality glory. TV screens will be literally split between the latest updates from the big-government evil National Weather Service and the big-spending deficit hawk anti-government hoarding phonies. New Jersey Gov. Chris "Incredible Hulk" Christie will be overshadowed by the ghost of Katrina. He will be upstaged by George W. Bush in absentia, as an audience of 16,000 corporate media stenographers (three per delegate) looks on.

And then there's the ultimate split personality: Mitt Romney. At this stage of play, there is simply no putting him back together again. Binyamin Applebaum surmises that he is being pulled in two different directions. But it's more like a hundred.  He is a living bundle of contradictions collapsing under the weight of his own flimsiness.

But forget all that. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reminds us that it's all bullshit anyway. As long as they're "nimble" about it and take that vaunted balanced approach, what with Isaac and all, fooling some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time is the best one can hope for.
"We have the ability to make alternative plans if we have to, but right now we feel that our message of the American dream and fixing this economy and putting ourselves on the right track for the future of this country — I think it’s a positive message and it’s a message that will always be good. When we’re optimistic about the future and how we’re going to fix this great country and put people back to work, it’s a message that works all the time."
Incidentally, the Google search for NimbleMitt brings you to an ad for an arthritis glove. It deadens pain with a combination of heat and snake oil.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fugitive from a Chain Gang

When Joe Biden warned that the GOP wants to put y'all back in chains, he was not kidding. Just check out the oligarchic orgy getting underway in Tampa. So how ironic is it that former Florida Republican Governor "Chain Gang" Charlie Crist defected to Barack Obama yesterday. What a slap to the party that had thrown Crist under the bus for being too gay-rights and pro-choice.  What a huge coup for Obama, who has made centrism and compromise with Republicans his raison d'etre, even a major theme in his re-election campaign.

But about those chains. Crist, who has developed a well-deserved Romneyesque reputation as a flip-flopper, was still bragging as recently as three years ago about his glory days as "Chain Gang Charlie."  Back in the 90s, when he was a freshman state senator, Crist was instrumental in reviving prison chain gangs after they'd been nationally banned in the 1940s for being too inhumane. Crist's rejuvenation of forced prison labor was also largely condemned as racist, not only by the NAACP, but by prison officials and even some conservative Southern editorial boards. According to one contemporary news story, Crist's fetish for penal slavery had its start in the first blush of his youth. While on a family road trip, he'd become inspired by the sight of a gang of prisoners in leg irons.

Chain Gang, South Florida Reception Center, circa 1995
 The draconian punishment became his cause celebre. He made it his business to investigate the coddled lives of Florida prisoners. When the inmates got wind of what the silver-haired reformer was up to, he got so rattled that he conducted subsequent prison visits disguised as Groucho Marx. Vickie Chachere of the Tampa Tribune wrote: "They were saying my name. They were saying, "That's Senator Crist,' " the St. Petersburg Republican would later recall. "It was a little unsettling."

There's no better way to appease a crime-fatigued public than treating them to the sight of shackled men filling potholes and picking up trash off the highways, Crist boasted. Plus, chaining prisoners together in a forced labor detail helps lower the recidivism rate, he claimed. (it doesn't) "It's harder to get any righter than that," he fondly reminisced in 2009.
Crist had a front-row seat to the very first chain gang revival on Nov. 22, 1995, when a group of inmates chopped brush in the Everglades. (And now he will have a front-row seat and a speaking gig at the Democratic National Convention!) From the L.A. Times archives:
 What we want to do is tell people that if you commit a crime in Florida, if you're convicted of committing that crime in Florida, Florida will punish you, you will do your time and it will not be pleasant," Crist said.
At a time of growing public anger over crime, Florida became the third state to bring back the form of forced labor that was eradicated nationwide in the 1940s because it was considered inhumane.
Many likened it to slavery; some still do.
Unlike Alabama, Florida prisoners aren't shackled together. Instead, each prisoner's ankles are chained together and their 20-person work groups are monitored by three guards. Arizona has introduced a similar system.
Chain gangs are being used as punishment for breaking prison rules. Those chosen may be maximum-security inmates, but none will be sex offenders, prior escapees, first-degree murderers or the physically or mentally ill. So far, no women are scheduled for the details.
No sunscreen during 10-hour days under the scorching Florida sun. No bug repellent in the mosquito-infested Everglades.
Just water, baseball caps, gardening gloves and thick leather pants to guard against snake bites.
Stan W. Czerniak, assistant secretary for operations at the Department of Corrections, said he was unsure chain gangs would be the deterrent Crist wants and questioned whether they were worth the increased manpower necessary.
Inside the prisons, two guards can oversee up to 144 inmates. On the chain gangs, three guards are needed to supervise a crew of 20 prisoners.
So -- another phony deficit hawk, eh? Paging Paul Ryan. And no women inmates on chain gangs! -- that'll win him the female demographic right there. 

Charlie's Chain Gangs were disbanded after only a year. The only locale that still allows such hard prison labor is in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County, Arizona. And even there, chain gangs are entirely optional on the part of prisoners.

 Chain Gang Charlie has now "evolved" into pretending to realize that his beloved GOP is just as inhumane now as he was back then. Plus, he lost to Marco Rubio in the Senate race. So he has become a centrist kool-aid cult member, singing the praises of his DINO soulmate -- Barack Obama. It doesn't hurt that Obama is a grand compartmentalizer in his own right, able to successfully argue for prison strip-searches for minor offenders, able to pick and choose assassination targets, able to oversee a War on Drugs that sucks up record numbers of minority men into a privatized penal system, able to ignore the humanitarian crisis of unemployment and foreclosure fraud and poverty as long as he pays homage to a "balanced approach" to cutting the social safety net.

From Crist's Tampa op-ed:
I'm confident that President Barack Obama is the right leader for our state and the nation. I applaud and share his vision of a future built by a strong and confident middle class in an economy that gives us the opportunity to reap prosperity through forced hard work and personal responsibility. It is a vision of the future proven right by our history of slavery.
We often remind ourselves to learn the lessons of the past, lest we risk repeating its mistakes. (Hide your true agenda). Yet nearly as often, our short-term memory fails us. (And thank God for the epic short-term memory loss of the American people, given my own history.)

Thirsty for a Little Chained Social Security COLA?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Principles Matter

If you read nothing else today, treat yourself to this amazing conversation (via Shannyn Moore's blog) between law professor Jonathan Turley and actor/activist John Cusack. Turley destroys every single excuse "progressives" have been dreaming up lately in order to give Barack Obama a free pass on his abysmal human rights record and (dare to say it) war crimes.

Obama apologists have been coming out of the woodwork insisting that we should abandon all our humanistic principles, and pull the lever for lesser evilism. Turley counters:
... there’s a great desire of many people to relieve themselves of the obligation to vote on principle. It’s a classic rationalization that liberals have been known to use recently, but not just liberals. The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.
Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that’s not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate.
This is nothing new, of course for civil libertarians who have always been left behind at the altar in elections. We’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. We’re used to politicians lying to us. And President Obama lied to us. There’s no way around that. He promised various things and promptly abandoned those principles.
So the argument that Romney is no better or worse does not excuse the obligation of a voter. With President Obama they have a president who went to the CIA soon after he was elected and promised CIA employees that they would not be investigated or prosecuted for torture, even though he admitted that waterboarding was torture.
So how does the Obama Administration get away with it? It all boils down to the charm offensive. The president simply presents us with a likeable brand. We  can't accept that a man so personable, so obviously devoted to his family, could be a cold-blooded sociopath. The frightening part is how skillful and manipulative the current occupant of the White House and his operatives are. We accept that he can kill anyone, anywhere, just on his monarchal whim because he has also "evolved" on gay rights and bailed out the auto industry and protects abortion rights and has given us corporate, profit-driven access to at least some health care, and best of all, might appoint slightly less right-winger justices to the Supreme Court. We have elevated the art of compartmentalization to stratospheric heights. The Orwellian cognitive dissonance is palpable.

And, says Turley, the silence of the lambs has been deafening:

Liberals and civil libertarians have lost their own credibility, their own moral standing, with the support of President Obama. For many civil libertarians it is impossible to vote for someone who has blocked the prosecution of war crimes. That’s where you cross the Rubicon for most civil libertarians. That was a turning point for many who simply cannot to vote for someone who is accused of that type of violation.
Under international law, shielding people from war-crime prosecutions is itself a form of war crime. They’re both violations of international law. Notably, when the Spanish moved to investigate our torture program, we now know that the Obama administration threatened the Spanish courts and the Spanish government that they better not enforce the treaty against the U.S. This was a real threat to the Administration because these treaties allow other nations to step forward when another nation refuses to uphold the treaty. If a government does not investigate and prosecute its own accused war criminals, then other countries have the right to do so. That rule was, again, of our own creation. With other leading national we have long asserted the right to prosecute people in other countries who are shielded or protected by their own countries.
Rather than feeling forced into the contrived Red vs Blue team sport extravaganza, Turley advises, we would be better off concentrating on local elections and protest movements. Yielding to the false dichotomy of the corporate political establishment only cements their grip on power, their control over every aspect of our lives.  If you thought the eternal presidential campaign of 2012 was torture, you wouldn't be exaggerating all that much. It's really a sort of mass hypnosis, an unrelenting psy-ops offensive taken to unprecedented levels. We're trapped in a labyrinthine series of echo chambers, with the media conglomerate as our guide to one wedge issue, one episode of manufactured outrage, after another. We can escape only if we can find our own moral compasses again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Big Scary Money

The wealthy are not only powerful, they can frighten otherwise sensible people into a state of blubbering impotence. Take Shrillionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the 12th richest ($20 billion) person in America. How does he get away with his autocratic program of police brutality on Occupiers, stopping and frisking minorities, spying on Muslims both inside and outside city limits, and until recently, making food stamp applicants get fingerprinted as though they were common criminals?

 Not only does he run New York City as his own private fiefdom, he owns a vast media empire -- and he is constantly threatening to expand it. Journalists are afraid to cross him, lest he own them one day -- say, at The New York Times. David Sirota of Salon lays it all out, and suggests we just stop sucking up to the sanctimonious prick.

Money Honey

Easier said than done. Bloomberg  also wields his influence inside the Beltway and inside the White House, where after a long lunch with the president earlier this year, he was reportedly offered the presidency of the World Bank. He turned down the job, because he already owns the World. And his World View happens to revolve around the cult of centrism -- an elite world in which the little people must sacrifice a lot and the plutocrats pay only a little, and where the meltdown of '08 was caused not by Wall Street psychopaths, but by the government making it too easy for greedy people to buy homes they couldn't afford. President Obama gratefully sucks up to this sanctimonious little prick and the rest of the oligarchy by fully embracing Grand Bargainism and pretending that the Deficit is the original sin. He and Bloomberg are on the exact same austerian page in calling for trillions of dollars in cuts to government programs, and raising the retirement and Medicare eligibility ages.

Ordinary people do not care about the deficit, and outright reject the austerity meme. A recent Ipsos poll reveals the majority of Americans (including Democrats, Republicans and independents) want more, not less, government spending in such areas as food safety, veterans' affairs, and medical device and drug safety. The same poll also revealed that most people were not only unaware that federal employees have been subject to a wage freeze for the past two years, but that the president has just extended it indefinitely. The majority believe that the rich should be taxed to pay for government agencies that serve and protect everyone. We're all a bunch of raving socialists.

Meanwhile, the middle class is shrinking. A new report by Pew grimly lays out the facts -- America is in a Lost Decade. I don't think we needed another poll to tell us that. 

And Mayor Bloomberg gets invited to the White House and liberal think tanks even as he gets away with criminalizing hungry people. He would sooner spend millions of dollars investigating them than feeding them.

Money rules. The class war is real. It's them against us, and as Uncle Warren Buffett famously said, they're winning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Other Wars on Women

While we're all being Akinized (the latest method of torture in the eternal presidential campaign of the muddled mind), there's been hardly a riffle of angst over President Obama's announcement yesterday that he will extend the federal wage freeze at least into next year. At the same time the Democrats are casting themselves as staunch defenders of our fallopian tubes, the leader of their party is sending our economic well-being right down the tubes.

By now, that two-year-old pay freeze is amounting to a draconian pay cut for federal workers, whose health insurance and pension contributions have continued to increase. It's a tough choice he had to make, said Obama, but everybody has to share the sacrifice. Except, of course, rich people. They're still waiting for their turn. His exact words:
Civilian federal employees have already made significant sacrifices as a result of a two-year pay freeze. As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, however, we must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course. This is an effort that continues to require tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.
Translation: since the real culprits won't own up, the whole class will be punished. Needless to say, the scapegoated workers (nearly half of whom are women) are incensed. David Cox of the American Federation of Government Employees is calling Obama's decision "unconscionable." He said the real loss in wages for an employee earning $30,000 is $2,000 when health care premiums are factored in. The president is again demonstrating his austerity bona fides to an electorate he seems to think cares about something called the deficit. No, scratch that. He is demonstrating his austerity bona fides to his unindicted Wall Street masters (contrary to common wisdom, they're still contributing to his campaign coffers, albeit at lower levels than to Rmoney.)

The president ordered the pay freeze only a month before he "caved" on the Bush tax cut extensions in late 2010. Therefore, the $5 billion saved off the backs of federal workers was more than wiped out by deferring to the Republicans and their mega-rich sugar daddies. Obama sweetened the pot even further by getting rid of the estate tax, ensuring that Paris Hilton won't have to pay a penny more. Those were the good old days, when progressives could still get outraged by their president derisively calling them whining purist ideologues, when it was still considered not only permissible, but essential, for the citizenry to dissent and criticize. A year later, the Occupy movement would be born, and the national repressive police state would become apparent.

So this is what we have to look forward to in a second Obama term. This is the face of lesser evilism: holding ordinary working people hostage unless and until a recalcitrant Congress agrees to a grandiose bargain of trillions of dollars in cuts to programs benefiting regular people and maybe but not really the Pentagon. At his impromptu press conference Monday, the president reiterated his burning desire for drastic cuts "balanced" by a polite request that the rich pay just a tad more in taxes. This guy, whose re-election hopes hinge upon his championing of the so-called middle class, is actually putting Medicare and Social Security on the table while he is running for office. And here you thought the Republicans were insane. Again, in his exact words:
  I continue to be open to seeing Congress approach this with a balanced plan that has tough spending cuts, building on the $1 trillion worth of spending cuts we've already made, but also asks for additional revenue from folks like me, folks in the top 1 or 2 percent. That would give more "certainty" to families and small businesses.
Notice how the president skillfully makes the cuts palatable to supporters by always reminding us that "folks like him" will have to share the sacrifice just as much as the impoverished widow who'll see her lifetime Social Security benefits decrease because of his chained COLA plan, or the 65-year-old unemployed and unemployable woman who will now try to stay alive just a few more years till her Medicare kicks in.

With friends like Obama, who needs enemies like RomRy? 

What? Oh, I forgot. The Democrats will protect us from coat hangers in back alleys. So be afraid-very-afraid, shut up, and eat your birth control pills.

And pay no attention to the fact that under a Democratic commander in chief, rapes and sexual abuse of women in the military have reached staggering new levels. (19,000 cases a year) These crimes go largely unprosecuted, and the victims themselves are regularly blamed, even discharged. Rep. Jackie Speier, who's been a lone Congressional advocate for military rape victims, writes:
Despite admonitions that the military has zero tolerance for rape, the military system supports a culture that values "military character" over justice for victims. Unlike the civilian system, the defense may cross-examine victims and previous sexual conduct is admissible evidence. It's no wonder so few victims report the crime.
And if a female soldier becomes pregnant as a result of rape, the armed services will not provide an abortion.  She is on her own, on any of the 1,000 (!) American military bases scattered around the world. Tell me again about the war against women.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Safe As Houses

That aphorism is obviously a slap in the face to the millions of people who've lost their homes to foreclosure, thanks to the greed of the Wall Street sociopaths. But back in 1874, during the so-called Long Depression, one John Camden Hotten defined the term thusly: "An expression to satisfy a doubting person; 'Oh! it's as safe as Houses,' i.e., perfectly safe, apparently in allusion to the paying character of house property as an investment. It is said the phrase originated when the railway bubbles began to burst, and when people began to turn their attention to the more ancient forms of speculation, which though slow were sure."

But home ownership as the linchpin of the American Dream  has proved to be one more feeble, rotting illusion, imploding through the speculation of the global financial system. Hotten did not foresee derivatives, collateralized debt obligations and subprime loans. The banksterism of the robber barons culminating in crash of '29 and the Great Depression was at least partially ameliorated by Glass-Steagall and the New Deal recovery programs -- and then World War II, followed by a tax rate on the wealthy approaching 90% during the Eisenhower years that gave birth to the middle class. Home ownership was taken for granted.

Fast forward to the repeal of Glass-Steagall during the Clinton years and a resurgence of casino banking and the crash of '08. Safe as Houses? What a cruel joke that turned out to be.

The New York Times today is running a rather lengthy piece by Binyamin Applebaum in the form of an Obama Apologia. Three-plus years in office, and the president is now admitting his administration didn't do enough to help keep people in their homes. Maybe it started to dawn on him that he could have done more when his campaign operatives began having trouble tracking down the people who voted for him last time. Disconnected phones with no forwarding addresses hampered Team Obama's outreach efforts. Minority voters he'd taken for granted were nowhere to be found. Millions of families had been evicted by the same banks the government gave a pass to. And so, says The Times, the president is now "haunted" by his slow response to a humanitarian crisis. The article doesn't say much about how haunted the foreclosure victims are by their own fate. It doesn't delve at all into the crony capitalism at the root of the crisis. And now, the president's re-election is in jeopardy. Waaaah. (Yves Smith has a good smackdown of both the article and the Obama housing policies here.)

In any case, the sudden regret of the White House is just so much bullshit. One novel solution to the housing crisis that's been getting a lot of press lately is the eminent domain option. A handful of local governments, most notably in California and New York, are fed up with the inaction from Washington and aim to take matters into their own hands. They want to wrest control of the mortgages of underwater homeowners in their communities from the predatory banks.

This plan, of course, has the financiers of Wall Street howling with rage. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago, has given it a big thumbs-down. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has given it his usual wishy-washy passive aggression. In other words, the White House will again pretend to mull it over while doing nothing. From The Hill:
This is just completely against what is the national interest in terms of mortgage finance,” said Chris Killian, a managing director for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). “It’s just completely wrong in our view.”
Joseph Pigg, vice president and senior counsel in mortgage finance for the American Bankers Association, said the idea could have “devastating” consequences.
“If they were to exercise eminent domain, you’re going to just completely destroy the securitization market,” he said.
These guys are completely and appallingly convinced that the only interest in this equation is their interest. And you can bet they have the full faith and credit of Geithner and Co. These are people who regret rien. Empathy is sorely lacking in their DNA. But aren't you grateful for your American freedoms anyway?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend Dystopia

Domestic drones are coming to an airspace near you. So, what a relief to find out that when it comes to spying on us from the skies, the police chiefs of our great nation fully intend to heed the constitutional niceties. At least that's what I think they're saying, given the mangled prose and dangling modifiers in the press release:
We also live in a culture that is extremely sensitive to the idea of preventing unnecessary government intrusion into any facet of their lives. Personal rights are cherished and legally protected by the Constitution. Despite their proven effectiveness, concerns about privacy threaten to overshadow the benefits this technology promises to bring to public safety.
Yeah, cultures is so picky about being violated. But I sure wish I had more proof that them-there privacy concerns are working like they should. 

Still, I suppose we should be grateful that we might even get treated to some advance warning from the police when an unmanned aerial device will be hovering in our neighborhoods. And that they will be painted a bright color so that we (and birds and any hang-gliders in the area) can see them. And that police agencies will be "strongly discouraged" from firing upon us from above. Even the ACLU is impressed, although it says it would be kind of nice if there were also some actual laws instead of mere suggestions. But we'll take whatever concessions we can get from our overlords. Compared to the terrorized Yemenis and Somalians on presidential kill lists, we should be so grateful for our exceptional freedoms.

It's usually not a great idea for politicians to openly consort with gangsters, especially when they're running for national office. But this is 2012, and ethics are so pre-Citizens United. If your name is Sheldon Adelson, you can be under pretend-investigation by the feds for illegal foreign practices related to your gambling empire, and still brag openly about buying the presidency. And while there may be some sharp intakes of breath from the few people who are paying attention, hardly anyone is batting an eye. 

Plus, since everyone has already decided whom they are going to support, it doesn't much matter how many baldfaced lies the politicians tell between now and election day. Paul Ryan begged for stimulus money and then lied about it. How else are he and Mitt sleazy? Gail Collins counts the ways

The Stung and the Feckless: The Washington Press Corps are miffed that President Obama talks to gossip rags and not to them. He hasn't given a press conference since June, when the corps seized upon his "private sector is doing just fine" gaffe and ran with it. He has instead appeared on shows like Entertainment Tonight, in the full realization that Election 2012 is just another ad campaign, and that he is TV Personality-in-Chief. What passes for a hard-hitting interview with him these days involves the reporter gushing that she just "flirted with POTUS!" Meanwhile, reporters are livid that the White House is demanding that even routine pool reports be submitted for censorship before release.

And yet, most of the populist outrage is being directed toward Putin's Russia, where the Pussy Riot punk band has been sentenced to two years for hooliganism in church and disrespecting their dear leader. State Department spokesperson (and former Cheney aide) Victoria Nuland issued a statement expressing "concern" and urging that Russia review the case. And when New Yorkers took to the streets Friday to express solidarity with the jailed rockers, the paramilitary forces of the NYPD arrested at least three of them, to express security state solidarity with Putin. The demonstrators' offense? They refused to take off their masks while converging in a public place, in gross pre-violation of the new corporate face-recognition technology planned for the Big Apple. The State Department has not even expressed its mildest concern about the civil rights crackdowns in our own country.

On a happier note, the diaries of George Orwell have just been published in book form.  They're still online, too. So the censorship is not quite complete. Yet.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chains We Can Believe In

The Beltway media bubble is exploding over Joe Biden's latest supposed gaffe -- that Republicans want to "put y'all back in chains" via their nefarious plot to eviscerate Dodd-Frank financial reform. Which begs the question -- how on earth do you eviscerate watered-down gruel? But be that as it may, the remark is being universally lambasted as a "dog whistle" to his largely African-American audience. If you vote for Romney, black people, expect an imminent return to slavery. There hasn't been this much outrage since Hillary Clinton complained on Martin Luther King Day 2006 that Congress was being run like a plantation. "And you know what I'm talkin' about" she told her black audience in a really bad imitation of 1930s Hollywood slave dialect.

The Dems are defending the Bidenism, claiming he was simply using the Republicans' "we're being shackled by too many regulations!" complaint against them. Even President Obama, who has shied away from anything remotely racial* ever since the "Beergate" debacle, weighed in. In full folksy g-droppin' populist mode during his campaign bus tour through Iowa, Obama told the People (!) gossip rag:
"The truth is that during the course of these campaigns, folks like to get obsessed with how something was phrased even if everybody personally understands that's not how it was meant.That's sort of the nature of modern campaigns and modern coverage of campaigns. But I tell you, when I'm traveling around Iowa, that's not what's on people's minds."
You can say that again, Barry. And while we're on the subject of dog whistles, they've been blowing fast and furious since right before the selection last weekend of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate. On selection eve, the Obama Administration, purely as a coincidence, announced that Goldman Sachs will not be prosecuted after all, because it's just too hard to punish bankster fraud, especially in an election year when donations are starting to dry up and they are not as flush with cash as they would like. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi grouses that Attorney General Eric Holder has no balls. Actually, he and the rest of Team Obama have balls of ice cold steel. They have the chutzpah to announce they are fully in the tank for Wall Street while simultaneously purporting to empathize with what's on "people's" minds.

And just in case Wall Street still doesn't get the message that they will be absolutely safe during an Obama second term, the Administration today sent out still another dog-whistly signal to its financial overlords. Pay no attention to the Bidenism. There will also likely be no prosecution of MF Global, nor of its CEO,  Obama bundler, former NJ governor and Goldman Sachs chief Jon Corzine. That is indeed chutzpatic, given that Corzine has "lost" the life-savings of many an Iowa farmer for whom the president so smarmily claims to care. As Azam Ahmed and Ben Protess write in today's New York Times:
After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case.
The hurdles to building a criminal case were always high with MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy in October after a huge bet on European debt unnerved the market. But a lack of charges in the largest Wall Street blowup since 2008 is likely to fuel frustration with the government’s struggle to charge financial executives. Just a few individuals — none of them top Wall Street players — have been prosecuted for the risky acts that led to recent failures and billions of dollars in losses.
Meanwhile, the chutzpatic and chaotic Mr. Corzine is "weighing" whether to start yet another porous hedge fund in which to play with other people's money. Right now he's reduced to playing with his own family's vast fortune, according to The Times. Still, the ignominy has not stopped his listing as a major bundler (raising more than $500,000) on the Obama Victory Fund's website. And in an attempt to boost his cred even further, he may even cooperate with the government in throwing one of his former female minions at MF Global under the bus. Balls of cold, cold steel. Balls and chains. We're being yanked, y'all.

* I stand corrected. Reader Blank Paiges reminds me of President Obama's statement following the Trayvon Martin shooting. The Beergate incident was an example of a political gaffe, or an off the cuff remark that was construed as a political gaffe. His Trayvon statement, of course, was nothing of the sort. On whole, though, the president has shied away from involvement in racial politics. Read Black Agenda Report (on my blogroll) for further insight. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fascist Fun at NBC

You've no doubt heard about that odious new celebrity war games show called "Stars Earn Stripes" and how a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners and others are urging NBC to can it. Not only does it glamorize war and glorify assault weapons and rake in millions in corporate profits -- it mightily disrespects the real troops in the field, most of whom make a barely-living wage and put their lives and psyches on the line far away from the Hollywood lights. It ignores the millions of innocent civilians who've lost their lives in the name of our freedom-imposing imperialism.

I wanted to see this show for myself. Trust me -- the reviews were right. Despite the explosions and rapid gunfire and fake drownings, it was as boring and stilted as can be. The host, Wesley Clark, is a washed-up retired general who once ran for president, and I can see why he didn't get too far in politics. He recites his rote lines like Mitt Romney on Valium. The guy has all the enthusiasm of a slug, yet the D-List stars pretend to be afraid of him and gratuitously call him "Sir!" like they were real grunts. And the female drill sergeant is played by a former Dancing With the Stars hostess whose job is to stand around and bark sexy directions in her skintight olive drab tee shirt.

The indoor set in which the stars get their orders and lectures is pretty cheesy too. It's rigged up as a command center deep in the bowels of some top secret Special Ops bunker. There's a wall of what looks like GPS and satellite coordinates, but when you look at it closely, it's just one big flashy ad for one of the show's sponsors: LifeLock. That's a company which purports to protect you from identity theft. Which is a joke, given that the corporate security state is stealing your information and spying on you every single day. (Google "Stratfor", or see this on the growing TrapWire scandal, or this on how our future movements can be predicted)

Speaking of sponsors... the only reason I watched the two-hour premiere was to find out exactly which corporate giants are paying millions and millions of dollars to shill their products and bring this obscene travesty into the living rooms of America. So there I sat, notebook in hand. And I filled three pages, noting every single spot. My count was about 80 commercials*, (not including the dozens of ads for NBC's own shows and fall line-up) some mere seconds long, some repeats, in only two hours. NBC is making a fortune. I don't know how they're paying their actors, but they're giving only a measly $100,000 to the first responder or military charity of the winner's choice.)

The biggest advertiser of the evening (by about a dozen commercials) was Ford, and they were selling a lot of macho trucks to tie in with the show. The ads blend in seamlessly with the violent narrative. First you see six-figure military Humvees, then you see scenes of more affordable Ford trucks. The commercials inexplicably have civilian vehicles careening through roadside explosions and dodging incendiary devices of unknown origin. Oh, and Walmart ran three ads. Two of them were for its big fat juicy red-meat steaks and the other one greed-washed an alleged entrepreneurial program for disabled veterans. This phony patriotism, of course, absolves them from having to pay their employees a living wage and health benefits.

Have You Driven a Ford Lately?
 "Stars Earn Stripes" is obviously trying to cash in on the Olympics afterglow, and Olympic profits, and continue the Olympics audience share, because it presents itself as an Olympics of War. In lieu of the eternal torch, we see  fake soldiers torching houses with rocket grenade launchers. In lieu of Michael Phelps, we get reality show stars rapelling into a lake from one of the many surplus military helicopters, some actors even pretending to drown from the weight of all their high-tech weaponry. Olympic skier Picabo Street is one of the contestants. So is a WWE girl wrestler, courtesy of GOP senatorial candidate Linda McMahon. Iron Man skimobile racer Todd Palin, macho husband of the half-governor, looks to be a shoo-in for top prize.

Upcoming NBC appearances by this summer's medalists on various  shows were advertised as well. In between sniper practice and rocket grenade launches last night, for instance, we learned that Michelle Obama is teaming up with Gold Medal gymnast Gabby Douglas to go on Jimmy Fallon. (Michelle's Nobel Laureate husband, by the way, was not among those signing the protest letter to NBC.)

You can read that letter here.

Roots Action is starting a petition drive against the show. They're also questioning how much of our taxpayer money is going into this extravaganza. What is the cost to us of the weapons, the helicopters, the couture, the hummers, the human simulacra getting shot up? This is where fascism comes into play. This is where the government hacks, the politicians, the corporations, the entertainment industry, the defense contractors and the military all come together to gin up some patriotic propaganda. From Roots Action:

While 57% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, weapons makers can't seem to get enough of our tax dollars. In the spirit of transferring veterans' care to the realm of private charity, "Stars Earn Stripes" will give prize money each week to "military-based charities" in order to "send a message." We have our own message that we will be delivering to NBC: Don't lie to us.
One of NBC’s corporate parents, General Electric, takes war very seriously, but not as human tragedy -- rather, as financial profit. (GE is a big weapons manufacturer.) A retired general hosting a war-o-tainment show is another step in the normalization of permanent war.
We do know that the Pentagon cooperated with NBC in producing the series, because one Special Operative was recruited on the very same day he retired from active duty. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles Green Beret Grady Powell, whose family always knew he was destined to become a star: 

When his five-year hitch was up, his plan was to "travel the world not getting shot at." But on his last day in the Army, a job placement officer told him, "Hey, Grady. Hollywood called."
Casting agents were recruiting for "Stars Earn Stripes," a reality-competition series from Mark Burnett ("Survivor") and Dick Wolf ("Law & Order") making its debut at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC....
At first, Powell wasn't enthusiastic. "We've all seen reality TV and know what it does," he said last week in an interview in Los Angeles, before NBC introduced the series to TV critics meeting there. "I didn't want to be involved in putting a bad face on the military."
"Coming into this, I thought it was going to be the same old corny military show where they’ve got the obstacle courses and BB guns or little soft toy guns, water guns and whatnot. That was the furthest thing from 'Stars Earn Stripes.' We’re jumping out of helicopters. There are people crying. Might see me cry. There’s explosions everywhere. There’s dirt in your eyes."
Powell was used to seeing stars from all those real-life explosive events he was in. Now he has different stars in his eyes. War isn't Hell when it has dollar signs written all over it. For the heartless greedheads and their sponsors at NBC, it is pure heaven.

And in case you're still having doubts that, in the words of Chris Hedges,"war is the force that gives us meaning", do watch this video rant from the inimitable Lee Camp.

* List of "Stars Earn Stripes" Sponsors:
  • Ford
  • Walmart
  • Capitol One
  • Samsung
  • JC Penney
  • Lowe's (home improvement)
  • Kraft Foods
  • Staples (a Mitt Romney creation!)
  • Verizon
  • Macy's
  • University of Phoenix
  • Toyota
  • Nissan (luxury Infiniti)
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Jeep
  • TJ Maxx
  • Olive Garden
  • T-Mobil
  • L'Oreal
  • LifeLock
  • SE Johnson ("A Family Company")
  • Kohl's
  • Mazda
  • Geico
  • JM Smucker (Folgers coffee)
  • Ikea
  • Met Life
  • Pizza Hut
  • Scott Brands
  • KFC
  • CBS Films ("The Words" movie)
  • Brita
  • Procter and Gamble (included ads for Jif peanut butter and Swiffer)
  • Lionsgate ("The Expendables II" movie)
  • TD Bank
  • Doctor Pepper
  • Raymour & Flanigan
  • PepsiCo (Mountain Dew)
  • Caesar Dog Food
  • Jason Mraz & The Ban
  • Biotene (Buchanan Group)
  • Ore-Ida

Monday, August 13, 2012

He Said Yes

There hasn't been this much media excitement since Charles and Diana announced their engagement. Mitt and Paul re-plighted their own troth on 60 Minutes last night in what had to be the fuzziest lovey dovey interview in the history of broadcasting. "I said YES," gushed Paul. The happy couple recounted the hotel hideout, the ride to the secret location in the black SUV through the dark woods to the final tryst, when Mitt finally popped the question.

The two lovebirds just couldn't keep their eyes off one another as they giddily breezed through the Bob Schieffer interview. Paul of the Big Blue Eyes even sneaked Shy Di glances at his new Prince Charming from time to time. Mitt himself was the very picture of the aging awkward swain:

RomRy have eclipsed Brangelina. This May-December political wedding between two guys with good hair has grabbed the national spotlight. The whirlwind courtship and honeymoon is blazing in tabloid headlines, even in the staid New York Times. Watch for the media frenzy to continue at least through the Republican National Convention. You can watch the 60 Minutes interview here. If you're not up for it, here's part of the transcript: 
Bob Schieffer:  What I would like to know was there one point where there was one moment when zing went the beat of your heart you said, "This is the guy. This is my guy."

Mitt Romney: Well, actually, you know, we've been plotting the country's downfall seeing each other working together for a while and, over the last year, Paul and I have come together on some policy issues and sat down and discussed those things. I was impressed with his sadistic right wing social engineering understanding of the issues that we were facing and also his cruelty political acumen. But then we spent some time on the campaign trail. I got to meet his wife and three children and was very impressed. They are the perfect all-American photogenic vanilla cover. But the final decision, Bob, was not until really August 1st when Wall Street kept pressuring me I kept my mind open, but I was intrigued and inclined towards Paul for some time, but I kept my mind open, and then on August 1st it was time to make that final decision. I called Paul and said, "I'd like to meet you on Sunday." And, we sat down and consummated the deal made it happen.
Bob Schieffer: Well, what was it that did it? Was it the hair? The eyes?
Mitt Romney: Well, you know, this is a guy who's a real looker leader. There are a lot of people who go to Washington or go to their state houses with a personal ambition in mind. Paul had a very different course laid out for his life. And became convinced that he was needed to try and get the country back on track. And he has gone to Washington with a passion for making a difference. And the Beltway media assholes have been having a mancrush on his phony centrism and telegenecity for a long, long time and I'm simply cashing in on his star power. 
Bob Schieffer: Has this sunk in on you yet? Can I see your ring?
Paul Ryan: It has. Because I've pretended felt for a while now that our country is in a very perilous position. And I'm a prima-donna. I'm a CAP. I'm a Congressional-American Princess.  And I've done everything I could in my career as a political golddigger chairman of the Budget Committee to try and make a difference to tackle this economic and fiscal challenge before it tackles us. Sunday is when we had this conversation and it took a little while to sink in after that, but to see all Americans coming out to these rallies, hungry for a new star solutions, hungry for a charismatic severe conservative demagogue people that provide leadership to get this country on the right track, I'm very excited about S&M this.
Bob Schieffer: And what did the governor say when he offered you--
Paul Ryan: He essentially said--
Bob Schieffer: --the job? A pre-nup?
Paul Ryan: --that we share the same hair and hatred for the common folk values and that I have the kinds of experiences that complement his skills. That complement his experience. To help him govern. To whip the peasants into submission. To execute a vision to get this country back on the right track. You know, to cut rich people's  taxes create jobs. To help people get rid of their Social Security and Medicare back on the path in life.
Bob Schieffer: I think I just turned into a senile Barbara Walters. What did you say?
Paul Ryan: I said, "Yes." 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Creepy Veepy

Just when you thought you couldn't take it any more, the presidential race suddenly got a lot more interesting. The Ayn Rand nihilist we all love to hate just won the veepstakes. We go from two boring nags plodding around the muddy track, to two boring nags joined by a foaming-at-the-mouth unbroken cannibal named Paul Ryan. This is the guy whose idea of a good time is starving grandmas and then serving them up to rich people with a bottle of Dom Perignon.

The addition of Ryan is a gift that will keep on giving to progressives. And that, of course, does not include right-centrist President Barack Obama, who recently complained that the Democrats don't get enough credit for wanting to cut Social Security and other safety net programs. The latest rumor floating around is that Catfood Commissioner and Obama surrogate Erskine Bowles is on tap to not only be the next Treasury Secretary but also the chief architect of the next Grand Bargain of Cuts.

So now, with Ryan on the national stage, Team Obama will have to pivot from its all-too-easy lambasting of outsourcing, tax-avoiding, issue-free Mitt Romney. Instead of running commercials accusing him of causing premature cancer deaths, they'll be forced to discuss Social Security and Medicare. The election will be a choice between two scenarios: do you want your safety net slashed with a Ryanesque machete, or would you rather have it gradually snipped and clipped into nothingness by an Obamian scalpel?

Can you imagine the debate in Florida? The Republican will defend handing out worthless vouchers to uninsurable older people, and the Democrat will defend raising the Medicare eligibility age to somewhere beyond the ever-decreasing life expectancy of the typical American. I can't wait for the reaction of suddenly wide-awake voters. Well.... we can always hope for a reaction. 

Imagine that you traveled back in time to 1932, and the presidential election was a Wall Street kabuki production between corporatist Herbert Hoover and his treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon. Mellon would be pretend-peeved that Hoover was a socialist because he espoused soup kitchens and bread lines and Hooverville housing projects for the poor. Hoover would be politely begging Mellon to pay just a "little more" on his income taxes and predicting better times through public-private partnerships and shared sacrifice. If FDR was in the picture at all, he would be castigated by the pragmatic Hooverites as a spoiler.

September 17th: the first anniversary of the Occupy movement.