Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Debt Ceiling Follies

The plotline of the latest Debt Ceiling Theater series is so hackneyed, so predictable, and so formulaic that you might be tempted to think that an AI program wrote it instead of the usual neoliberal suspects. 

It's all playing out pretty much as I'd predicted in my last post. Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy and various White House transplants from Wall Street all got together in a secret location to make the rewarding of the rich and the killing of the planet  and the fighting of endless wars for profit all seem like panaceas compared to deliberately crashing the entire global economy.

The main difference in this season of DCT is the lack of feisty courageous characters making their traditional fuss and thus extending the contrived suspense. The package already has gotten out of the relevant House committee, after just one GOP hard-liner "extremist" quickly bowed to pressure and relented to a full floor debate and vote. 

 For their own part, House Dems are making nary a peep. Of course, just  the right number of liberals will be allowed to vote Nay, for purposes of maintaining their alleged progressive cred, allowing them to brag to their constituents that they fought tooth and nail against this abomination of a bill. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the first renegade out of the pack to announce her own Nay vote. 

“My red line has already been surpassed,” Ocasio-Cortez said last week. “I mean, where do we start? [No] clean debt ceiling. Work requirements. Cuts to programs. I would never – I would never – vote for that.”

She should have used the more linguistically correct "My red line has already been crossed - not surpassed. But to be fair to her,  Joe Biden and his bipartisan buddies actually did not simply saunter past her thin little red line. They ignored it, flying high above it at supersonic speed. They seem confident that neither AOC nor Senator Bernie Sanders will ever call for a primary challenge to Joe Biden, or hurl personal insults at the corrupt Democratic leadership. AOC, in her use of "surpassed," has acknowledged that the neoliberals and neocons in charge of the place are superior to her. Her tacit meaning, what with her timid use of the passive voice (The line was simply ignored, not that Biden deliberately ignored it)  is that she believes that Biden and his bipartisan claque deserve to win.

 Notice, too, how quickly AOC's call for the president to invoke the 14th Amendment or to order the minting of a trillion dollar platinum coin has likewise plummeted down the memory hole.

Other "progressives," meanwhile, are merely leaning toward a No to a bill that enacts cruelty just for the sake of cruelty.  Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is only "concerned" that middle-aged poor women on food stamps will initially be bearing the brunt of the social cuts.  Because going into full outrage mode apparently is a leap too wide for Jayapal to take over her own yellow-hued line in the sand. She is not even planning to send Biden one of those strongly worded letters in order to express her mild disappointment. It would never do to get shunned like she did not so very long ago when she politely wrote Biden and asked him to consider diplomacy to help end the Ukraine proxy war with Russia. It would never do to ask her party to be kinder to poor people who will now be forced to work or jump through more hoops for their paltry SNAP (supplemental nutrition) stipends. It would never do to point out that cutting these benefits is tantamount to class-based misogyny - not when Donald Trump is waiting in the wings to be cruel to women of all classes, including his own. The #MeToo ethos is mainly the property of women who don't have to go on food stamps in order to live. It's not geared to the basic human right to survive. It's geared toward the neoliberal objective of women breaking the glass ceiling and making as much of a six-figure salary as men do.

The sickening reality is that the people who manufactured this false crisis are actually patting themselves on the back for their "rare" burst of bipartisan upper class solidarity. They simply do not care about the rest of us. They know full well that poor people relying on the SNAP program  to pay for less than half their monthly nutritional needs don't have lobbyists or lawyers to represent them. They are disposable. The cuts are made to send a message that you don't count as a human being unless you have money. You need to be shamed, and you need to be made an example of for your own failure to lie, cheat and steal your way to the top, as these politicians and their lackeys and their funders have done. The proud display of cruelty is their whole point.

Only a sociopathic leader like Joe Biden can travel to, of all places, Hiroshima to canoodle with his fellow hawks to map out the escalation of the Ukraine war. Only a sociopathic leader and his G-7 cronies could have chosen such a tragic venue, the site of the first atomic bombing of innocent human beings, to announce his approval of nuclear-capable fighter jets for Ukraine. The fact that Biden then skipped a climate summit for the sole purpose of making a deal that rewards the worst polluters -  US-based energy companies and the US military - with unlimited funds speaks whole pathological volumes.

Meanwhile, they are reverently joining in solidarity to congratulate oligarchic war criminal Henry Kissinger on his 100th birthday.

The US Health Care System: Disemboweling the Demos (h/t Bill Hogarth)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Biden on the Blankety-Blank Brink

 Besides the requisite fear-mongering about Debt Ceiling Armageddon, the most annoying part of all the mainstream media coverage of this manufactured crisis is the notion that President Biden simply doesn't have the guts or the smarts to withstand Republican demands to rob the poor and reward the rich.

Biden is, of course, neither "blinking" nor is he "caving" to blackmail, like the Democrats' liberal wing are insisting. He is being absolutely competent in taking this golden opportunity to do the right bipartisan thing at the last possible minute. At the end of the month, at the very stroke of midnight, his recalcitrant party will be the caver, just as they always are. They are reluctantly agreeing to snip more holes in the social safety net. In doing so, they will save the entire global economy from total destruction. It was such a hard-fought battle. Therefore, vote for them again and send them some of your money for all the future scripted battle narratives yet to come!

"We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good," they will preach to the SNAP (food stamp) recipients who, if the establishment gets its way, will have to score low-paying work or at least prove that they are constantly looking for low-paying or non-existent work in order to eat. Temporary cash aid to poor parents - mainly single moms - will be rendered even more temporary.  

This is despite government food stamp stipends recently being cut back to pre-pandemic emergency bare-bones levels. Since it will cost SNAP recipients and poor parents both time and money that they don't have to pay for work-seeking or job-training transportation, the underlying goal is obvious. Our rulers simply aim to cut people off their aid entirely, as punishment for their failure to jump through enough poor-shaming hoops.

Joe Biden boasted to the press only a few days ago that as a senator, he voted for similar cuts throughout his long career.  His feeble promise that he would never negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling never contained one iota of sincerity. He is not about to waste a golden opportunity to effect what the GOP could never do without Democratic complicity.

Of course, the far-right Marjorie Taylor Greene wing of the party could always spoil things, just as their Tea Party forebears did during the  administration of Barack Obama, whose own "grand bargain" of Social Security and Medicare cuts never came to pass. They simply were not deemed cruel enough. The latest crisis in debt ceiling theater is Biden's noble refusal to make sick Medicaid patients work or go without medical treatment. Lower life expectancy and morbidity stats in the US are already shocking.. And it wouldn't look good for the US hegemon's world standing to be too obvious about the official sadism..

 Oligarchs who run the place, wishing on and off for  a Biden presidency for the past half-century, have finally gotten their wish. After all, he was a founding member of the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council which was formed for the express purpose of joining the neoliberal Reagan Revolution.

Let me reprise and update a bit of what I wrote several years ago about the origins of this Clinton/Obama/Biden wing of the Democratic party:

Back in the 80s, the three most common "colorblind" euphemisms for the "N" word being utilized by Biden and both establishment political parties were Welfare, Drugs, and Crime.

Reagan himself not so subtly railed against welfare queens and "young bucks" on food stamps in such blatantly symbolic places as Mississippi. But the Democrats, who still needed the support of black and brown people in the South, had to be a tad more politically correct about their zest for race and class-based eugenics. 

Mere months after Reagan took office,  DLC architect Al From recalls in his memoir that Congress's then-named New Democratic Caucus was absolutely thrilled when on April 9, 1981, the New York Times published, verbatim, its entire "movement manifesto" of economic principles.

This  archaic document has become the Bible of every conservative Democratic ideologue since Clinton, seamlessly morphing into Obama acting as the other heel of the Bush Jr sandwich filling. Now, Joe Biden is the dessert cheese. He's been their adorable the goofy guy in-the-wings since 1972, when he was still only a 29-year-old senator (D-Capitol One) from Delaware, LLC/USA. Four years of President Biden are simply not enough for them. He is that rare crumbly aged cheese  The older he gets, the more pungent his flavor.  Carefully cultivated mold is pricey, sure, but so very, very good for them!

The first principle of the DLC (later renamed the "New Democrats" in the age of Obama) - once they get the requisite gushing over the New Deal out of the way - is  deficit reduction, even when times are bad. They spread the lie that austerity is a guard against inflation. Inflation is making a very convenient comeback, thanks to the greed of corporations. Unlike Nixon, Biden would never dream of ordering price controls to reduce inflation, to make the cost of groceries more affordable for those that he and the GOP want to starve into submission. Their cure for inflation is to make hungry poor people go on another diet.

When Republicans cycle into power, deficits don't matter when it comes to giving tax breaks to the rich. And now that it's another Democrat's  turn, all programs benefiting regular people suddenly must be "paid for" by cutting other programs benefiting regular people. Both parties always exempt the permanent war machine from any of their inflation fear-mongering. Meanwhile, Biden is also "open" to clawing back unspent pandemic funding - rather than, say,  re-allocating it to health care, especially for Long Covid patients.

A related founding principle (a/k/a shameless propaganda) of the original DLC is that since "people" (the rich) demand austerity and spending cuts, the New Democrats must always try to placate the rich (and Republicans) as a show of their good faith and liberal tolerance within The Club.  But to prove that they really also care about the working and poor people who actually vote them into office, they're always quick to add that the wealthy should (it's just a suggestion) equally share the burden of sacrifice.

Here's the clunky concluding chunk of the first Official DLC Manifesto, reprinted verbatim for your reading pleasure. I have bolded all the neoliberal keywords, which have survived for nearly half a century, to poison our minds and our spirits and our lives to this very day. These principles remain at the rotten core of the Joe Biden agenda. They were baked into his political psyche from the very beginning of his career... which, by the way, more or less coincided with the beginning of Donald Trump's own career:

In controlling Federal spending, we intend to abide by the following guidelines:
-We will seek out and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse. We will provide the resources to prosecute those taking advantage of government benefits to which they are not entitled, whether wealthy tax evaders, illegal monopolies or participants in welfare fraud.
- We will promote the work ethic by encouraging recipients of government assistance to work and resisting cuts that would throw people out of work and onto welfare. 
- We will help those who cannot work, particularly the disabled, the sick and the elderly. A society cannot remain health and self-respecting while ignoring those who are poor and helpless through no fault of their own.
 - We will strengthen our defense force, in cooperation with our allies, to ensure world peace. We will increase military capability and readiness, eliminate Pentagon waste and renew the search for mutual arms control agreements.
- We will promote cooperation rather than conflict among the levels of government. We must recognize local strengths, local initiative and regional differences in the country as we decide the structure and number of Federal programs. We will not purposely add unnecessary tax and regulatory burdens to state and local governments.
 We will examine indirect spending through the tax code with the same critical eye we focus on direct spending. Wasteful and unfair tax loopholes will be closed.
- We will upgrade our efforts in the area of law enforcement to intercept the flow of illegal drugs across our borders, stem the tide of illegal immigration, introduce efficiencies into our criminal justice system, and work in partnership with state and local governments to combat crime. 
 - In short, we pledge to develop a lean Federal budget, which puts us on the path of balancing the budget and provides for the human needs of our people.

Translating the above into normal person-speak:

-- A poor single mother on food stamps is the other side of the Donald 
Trump villain-coin. We will demonize and even jail the poor mother while comparing her to Donald Trump, who still roams free and who the Democratic establishment mightily hopes will run again.  Not only that, we'll once again promote him to our friends as our Pied Piper GOP nominee, to make Biden smell as sweet and look as appealing as that other founding DLC member Hillary Clinton did back in 2016.  The hackneyed definition of insanity -  repeating the same things and expecting a different result - is just so much malarkey.

--The DLC, under Bill Clinton, soon got its dream fulfilled when millions of poor mothers got thrown off welfare in the 90s, only to be thrown into low-wage or non-existent jobs without the promised child care aid. At the same time, Donald Trump kept "losing" billions of dollars on paper, which allowed him to pay zero income taxes for more than a decade, as he importuned crooked banks to fraudulently bankroll his real estate empire, which ultimately landed this self-made grifter his own hit TV show on NBC. So as you can see, the DLC's work ethic sermon of a manifesto worked exactly as intended. The New Dems helped to inspire Trump (then a registered Democrat) to keep struggling against all the odds. Even better, his ladder of opportunity turned out to be an elevator of opportunity!

--There are the deserving poor. and then there are the undeserving poor. The different groups of Poors must be divided, and taught to resent one another so that they will be less apt to resent the rich racketeers of the ruling class, including Donald Trump.  Ex-GOP Speaker Paul Ryan is unfairly often blamed by Democrats for coming up with this poor vs. poor crap all on his own. But, as self-avowed New Democrat Obama used to gently chide his Old GOP bro Mitt Romney: "You didn't succeed all on your own, Governor. You didn't build this all by yourself!"

- Calling Mr. Orwell. We will arm ourselves to the gills to promote world peace, love and understanding. We will impose sanctions on Iraq and Iran and Russia and Venezuela, and the deaths of millions of innocent people will, to paraphrase the late Madeline Albright, 
have been "worth it." 

--Regulations on capital and greed are bad. As a result, Bill Clinton and his bipartisan Congress (including Biden) repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and other anti-graft legislation from the New Deal era. As a result of that repeal, the financial system crashed in 2008, just in time for Obama to win the White House and the Democrats to win the whole Congress and stuff the new ruling administration with the same deregulation-happy culprits, like Jeffrey Epstein pal Larry Summers, who caused the whole mess in the first place. And the regular people struggled on for eight more years until 2016, just in time for Trump and the Republicans to complete the inevitable cycle.

--Mexicans were bringing drugs across the border decades and decades ago! Blacks and Browns were committing all the crimes! Stop them, police them, jail them, and begin a new Jim Crow era and conduct a virtual slow genocide -  but be sure to call your institutional bigoted practices "efficiencies." Then slap a slick "War on Drugs" label on it so you don't sound racist. Decades later, act all shocked and appalled when Donald Trump unleashes his racist rhetoric and tragically rips the whole happy-face mask right off your long-standing official DLC manifesto.

As Al From wrote in 2013's "The New Democrats and the Return to Power," the original 1981 manifesto was 
the absolute catalyst for "vibrant economic growth in the private sector of the economy.... "

It was the right first battle for us to take on. It left a good impression and gave us running room for later reform efforts.... It allowed us to establish our new themes without fear of being crushed by the old bulls.... That the New York Times chose to print it in full was icing on the cake."

This manifesto set the Democrats on their relentless, nearly half a century-long trajectory
 to the right, moving the GOP even further to the right as a result.

Al From adds in his memoir that as disappointed as DLC conservatives were when, in 1984, Biden refused to run for president, Joe "had the good sense to put a stop to our nonsense" of trying to oust Reagan challenger Walter Mondale. They remained confident that Joe's zealous reactionary contributions to their right-wing platform would ultimately prevail. "Developing a winning message" was their ultimate goal then, and it's their ever more feeble ultimate goal now.

Their 1986 midterm message was "Defending America," which according to From, sent the Reaganites into conniption fits of jealousy for out-flanking them from the right.

From also brags that it was the core DLC membership who, in 1981, came up with the anti-democratic superdelegate system to ensure that the right-wing faction of the party would always prevail against any potential lefty upstarts.

From credits #Russiagate maven Hillary Clinton with spreading the New Democrat ideology far and wide throughout the world during her stint as Obama's secretary of state. He doesn't mention the subsequent rise of right-wing authoritarianism in the same countries that Hillary so ingeniously inspired.

And in his own introduction to From's book, written just three years before Donald Trump was elected, Bill Clinton gushes that despite all the pain and destruction and death that he wrought, he is still a true believer in the DLC message of mass austerity, endless war, the continuous growth of capitalism, the expansion of globalism, "reform" of welfare and the fight against "crime". Bill added nary a word about the climate catastrophe.

Joe Biden himself is not putting the climate catastrophe anywhere near the top of his DLC-inspired agenda. Forget the U.N. report revealing that millions of plant and animal species will go extinct because of the crisis. Not content to be a do-nothing vice president, in 2011, after the GOP congressional "shellacking" of the Obama White House,   he breathlessly proclaimed that he was "the new sheriff in town" who would ruthlessly cut all the "waste, fraud and abuse" displayed by living beings protected by the big, bad guvmint. 

As president, Biden has not only rubber-stamped major oil drilling projects in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, he has used the manufactured debt ceiling crisis to snub a climate summit in Australia... which, now that Biden is not attending it, has been canceled altogether.  Heads he wins, tails we all lose. 

Joe Biden certainly has come a long way from his perches in the senate and as vice presidential deficit hawk. 

Here's what he bragged about as his first order of VP business in the Obama White House:  

Did you know that the government spends millions to maintain buildings that have sat vacant for years? Or that your tax dollars pay to needlessly ship copies of the Federal Register to thousands of government offices across the country even though the same information is available online?

 And I bet you didn't know that your tax dollars pay for a website dedicated to the Desert Tortoise. I'm sure it's a wonderful species, but we can't afford to have a standalone site devoted to every member of the animal kingdom. It's just one of hundreds of government websites that should be consolidated or eliminated.  

This kind of waste is just unacceptable. Particularly at a time when we’re facing tough decisions about reducing our deficit, it's a no-brainer to stop spending taxpayer dollars on things that benefit nobody.
That’s why President Obama asked me to head up the Campaign to Cut Waste—a new effort to root out wasteful spending at every agency and department in The Federal Government.

 All this gruesome history makes AOC's performative demand that Biden reject everything he's ever stood for that he invoke the 14th Amendment and simply order the debt ceiling raised, sound all the more quaint and disingenuous. For as long as elected progressives like her keep pretending to "fight for us," what more can we expect?

After all, when you look around and all you see is a decaying gerontocracy, there has got to be a smidgen of hope and a revived supplementary definition for the word "revolting". Nobody lives forever - not even them. Despite all the gold-encrusted health care in the world, even they fall apart. Eventually. Which is not nearly soon enough.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Reinvented Grifters Unite!

Former New York Times reporter Amy Chozick might seem to have a fatal journalistic attraction to powerful femmes fatales. In her previous career-life, she'd scored the coveted, decade-long, full-time Hillary Clinton beat at the Times, which she later parlayed into a book (Chasing Hillary), which she is now parlaying into a cable/streaming series.

She now could also be said to be chasing after convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes - were it not for the fact that it was Holmes herself who appears to have chased Chozick and lured her into her own sticky web.  The lengthy ensuing article, published on Sunday in (where else) the New York Times, has been almost universally panned as a fawning puff piece about a notorious woman who stole billions of dollars from investors, and even worse, endangered the lives of countless patients with her bogus blood-testing machine. Holmes is trying to avoid prison through endless appeals and reinventing herself as a mom, as an animal-lover who once spent 16 hours looking for her lost dog in a bramble-infested forest, and a sexual abuse survivor who does volunteer rape crisis counseling from home.

With the Holmes piece as with the book about the Hillary Clinton campaign, Chozick's shtick is to cast herself a a major, if not the main, character. 

 In the Hillary book, she couldn't get close to the candidate no matter how much she wheedled and annoyed and begged. In the Holmes saga, on the other hand, Chozick implies that she barely escaped with her life - or at least with her journalistic integrity intact.

In the first chapter of Chasing Hillary, we were introduced to a star-struck ingenue standing up and cheering for Clinton before recovering and remembering that she was supposed to be an objective reporter on assignment for her college paper. 

So if Hillary actually was demoted to a mostly offstage character in Chasing Hillary, it was her own damned fault. She barely even acknowledged poor Amy Chozick,, who gave up 10 whole years of her life to cover Clinton's two campaigns. So the repetitious bulk of the book, which I confess I never finished, revolved around Chozick's tiresome interactions with Hillary's male campaign staff, whom Chozick called "The Guys" - along with the mostly male traveling press corps. The campaign operatives spent their entire time thwarting her relentless, plucky quest of a one-on-one interview with the candidate, not to mention myriad other snide ways of leaving her out of the loop. Chasing Hillary did not sound like very much fun, In fact it sounded like sheer torture, but chock full of what fawning reviewers called "rollicking" escapades.

 Amy slogged on and persisted, even freezing her eggs until such time that Hillary would finally be crowned president and our journalistic ingenue could finally squeeze in getting her eggs fertilized and giving birth before, she implied, chasing Madam Prez straight into the White House, or at least into the White House briefing room for the spinning of official lies.

Sadly, it did not turn out that way.  But nevertheless Amy Chozick persisted even more, eventually quitting the Times for sunny California and reinventing herself as a Hollywood screenwriter and producer.

For the past several years, in fact, she's been co-producing, co-writng  and developing an HBO/Max series based upon Chasing Hillary. If it's anything like the book, it will be equal parts depressing and rollicking good fun, as four female campaign reporters canoodle and bond. (you'll be forgiven for hoping  that the Hollywood writers' strike lasts forever.)

So during an apparent lull in production, Chozick took on a side-gig that might have been called Chasing Elizabeth Holmes were it not the opposite, that it was Elizabeth Holmes who did the seductive chasing and luring. It would become Chozick's job to publicize the convicted fraudster's own attempted reinvention as a mother, an animal-lover, a volunteer rape counselor and just an all-around normal glamorous rich lady. She is just like us, right down to breastfeeding a newborn infant that she grotesquely named Invicta, and posing in ripped jeans in her luxury home and cuddling with her handsome young hunk of a partner and sweet babies on a Pacific beach at sunset.

According to Chozick's lengthy article, published in the Sunday edition of -where else - the New York Times - the old Elizabeth, who defrauded investors out of billions of dollars for a blood-testing invention that did not exist, and endangered the lives of countless patients through bogus diagnostics, a New Liz has emerged from the ashes right on the cusp of having to report to a minimum security prison for up to 11 whole years.

Chozick's piece, as expected, engendered quite the backlash, both from Times readers and media critics.

But wait. In defense of Amy, surprising even my own cynical self, her article isn't quite the puff piece that it's being criticized for. In fact, if you read between the lines, it's quite the indictment. This journalistic cream-puff is loaded with enough sly verbal arsenic to slow-kill an elephant.

Take the opening paragraphs:

Elizabeth Holmes blends in with the other moms here, in a bucket hat and sunglasses, her newborn strapped to her chest and swathed in a Baby Yoda nursing blanket. We walk past a family of caged orangutans and talk about how Ms. Holmes is preparing to go to prison for one of the most notorious cases of corporate fraud in recent history.

In case you’re wondering, Ms. Holmes speaks in a soft, slightly low, but totally unremarkable voice, no hint of the throaty contralto she used while running her defunct blood-testing start-up Theranos.

“I made so many mistakes and there was so much I didn’t know and understand, and I feel like when you do it wrong, it’s like you really internalize it in a deep way,” Ms. Holmes said as we stopped to look at a hissing anaconda.

My own published comment diverged somewhat from those of  well over a thousand outraged readers:  

The juxtaposition of the "hissing anaconda" in the zoo with Holmes' Poor Idealistic Me act sets the tone for the entire piece. Even when she is tenderly strapping her preternaturally calm infants in their car seats, the snake imagery slithers through the reader's mind. Excellent writing about a very manipulative and creepy subject. Entrepreneur that she is, I can easily envision Holmes taking her talents to her gig at the low-security prison. (That is, if she ever does go to prison.) A reality series complete with tender family visits is a definite must. "Invicta Cries For Convicta" could be the theme of one episode. To relieve the stress, the action can regularly shift to Dad with the non-Dad gym body as he copes alone and lonely in a nearby luxury rental home. Then we can watch Liz lead a counseling session with fellow sex crime victims, who will be allowed strictly supporting roles in the drama. Before we know it, she'll get a fan club, members of which will clamor mightily for her early release. Liz the showrunner is already plotting a redemption story for the ages. At least the author of this article admits that she was used. She is honest about being mesmerized by her subject. My own takeaway? Elizabeth Holmes is even more dangerous than we knew. She is not done with us yet. Unless, of course, we decide to be done with her.

Despite all the surface fluff and puff of her piece, it is through fluff and puff overkill that Chozick presents the real Elizabeth Holmes. At the very end, the reporter forsakes the Nirvana of eating berries and walking on the beach for days on end with her seductive subject and her impresario of a partner, admitting that she feared asking tough questions because Holmes was always using her breastfeeding 11-day-old baby as a helpless human shield.

Left unspoken: what kind of mother would invite a reporter from the New York Times to become a veritable part of her family as soon as the second stay-out-of-jail baby was born? We know about postpartum depression. But postpartum grifting? That's a new one.

So, no, I don't think Amy Chozick deserves all the bad press she's been getting for this particular effort. Rather than telling the world what kind of grifter Holmes is, she craftily shows us, in that disingenuous style of hers. I am normally not a fan of that kind of writing, where the reporter inserts herself in the middle of a story. But this time I think it worked.

The last time I'd felt kind of bad for Amy Chozick was when readers piled on her just before at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, after I'd criticized her in one of my Times comments for breathlessly seeking out Donald Trump, of all people, to pontificate  on the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal. She wrote back to me in the comments to defend herself. You can read about that here if you're interested. 

Full disclosure: the main reason I felt bad at the time was that Chozick assumed my critique of the Times coverage meant that I was a Hillary fan rushing to her defense. This is the same kind of attitude the Times had toward critical lefty readers whom they dismissed as "Bernie Bros."

But enough of inserting myself into this blogpost, LOL.

Speaking of grifters reinventing themselves, meanwhile, Hillary also has a new career, as a professor at Columbia University. That Ivy League institution just lately hosted alumnus Barack Obama as the perfect guy to lecture budding journalists about press freedoms -  which, in his syllabus, is the freedom to censor both yourself and others. 

So many grifters, so little time.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Audacity of Obama's Opacity

Longtime readers of this blog might remember my semi-regular series deconstructing Barack Obama's weekly White House addresses. His tones were so dulcet, his words were so anodyne that it was easy to be lulled into a state of complacency, if not rank stupefaction. Only when you gave the transcripts a close read were you able to suss out the occult message. Many if not most of these addresses were dog whistles to Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex.

A common theme throughout his reign of Endless Austerity and Permawar was Support the Troops. The gaslighting propaganda got especially heavy during the winter holiday season, when year after year after year, Obama actually compared the sacrifices and hardships of endlessly deployed troops to Jesus Christ being born just to suffer and die for our sins in order to save us.

For me, one of the saddest things about Trump and then Biden succeeding Obama to the presidency was that the weekly presidential speeches went bye-bye. Deconstructing Trump's tweets became the fulltime job of #Resistance, Inc., a/k/a the establishment media, who endlessly debated the real meaning of Covfefe. And what can you possibly deconstruct about Biden, who wears his sociopathy on his sleeve and whose definition of a major press conference is sitting for a softball interview on MSNBC?

So when I heard that Obama had recorded an address last week to the Columbia University School of Journalism to mark the 30th anniversary of the U,N.'s Global Press Freedom extravaganza, I wondered how he'd square his remarks with all the scathing criticism he'd gotten from the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications.. The CJR called his administration the most opaque, secretive and anti-free press in modern history.

Just back from Spain, where he'd traveled on his pal Steven Spielberg's private jet to catch a concert by their mutual pal Bruce Springsteen, Obama's  remarks, ostensibly geared  to journalism students, were really directed at his squeamish pals in the Military-Industrial complex (MIC), of which Wall Street and establishment media are such integral parts.

But it was a dog whistle in a higher key this time. Thanks  to reporting by The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein, we find out that the MIC acronym has been enhanced into FMIC. I am sad to say that it does not stand for  F-k the Military Industrial Complex. It stands for the  Foreign Malign Influence Center, a shadowy new-ish government agency which oversees propaganda efforts by the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies, and the law enforcement agencies. It's a one-stop shop for countering "foreign disinformation." with acceptable domestic government propaganda:

The FMIC is authorized to counter foreign disinformation targeting not just U.S. elections, but also “the public opinion within the United States.

This hiding-in-plain sight government agency is the direct offshoot of the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which Obama himself established by executive order during his last year in office.  The GEC essentially made it perfectly legal for the government to propagandize US citizens. As Klppenstein reveals, the FMIC both centralizes the propaganda efforts and it expands them from State through the full panoply of US surveillance and police agencies, whose previous efforts at propaganda were deemed too disjointed to be effective.

Klipenstein writes,

That foreign governments such as Russia spread lies as part of propaganda to advance their own interests is not in dispute. But the efforts to counter disinformation have now become a cottage industry that critics suggest has grown far out of proportion to the threat.

Therefore, with the scattershot government response to the Janaury 6th capitol riot as the excuse for the latest "state of exception," the new and improved government propaganda shop will  not only counter "foreign" disinformation, it will counter it with a unified proactive Narrative of its own. As long as they can cast all manner of homegrown ills as the product of a foreign bad actor, they can fight Disinformation Over Here so they don't have to fight it Over There. 

And this is where Obama comes in, to lecture the future elite journalistic partners of the EMIC -  students who now pay (or will owe)  about $75,000 a year in Columbia tuition in order to to  become credentialed enough to Disseminate the Discourse in the ever-dwindling collection of news outlets.

Some salient snippets from the Obama video:

"We have to look at ourselves critically and make reforms that allow us not only to survive but thrive."

Obama carefully doesn't specify who the "we" are or what kind of "reforms" he has in mind. Whenever a politician uses the word reform, it usually means something that's good for the rich, and bad for everyone else. They never talk about cutting Social Security and other programs, but only about reforming them. In other words, deforming them. So when Obama talks about reforming journalism, I'm afraid that he's talking about censorship.

"It feels like we're at an inflection point - rising inequality, deepening polarization, and widespread disinformation. (and technical trends like AI). We need to face these trends head-om on, and we need you (his emphasis)to do it."

Because politicians like Obama have failed to face these long-standing, capitalism-engendered problems - which in his world are only trends - the rest of the world is going to shit. You don't need no stinking jobs. All you need is information approved from on high. Only propaganda will set you free.

"That's why it's so important to find creative ways to reinvigorate quality journalism."

If it's quality journalism already, then what's to reinvigorate? He seems to be suggesting new adjectives to make misery look like more fun, or at least entertaining enough to keep the proles glued to the screen in order prevent them from taking to the streets.

"I plan on shining a light on the biggest challenges. That includes revitalizing our political institutions, and coming up with more inclusive and sustainable models of capitalism and creating a stronger democratic (Democratic?) culture. And it also means creating an information environment that reinforces rather than erodes our democracy."

Here we go again with the neoliberal interchangeability between capitalism and democracy. The neoliberal project is fraying around the edges, coming apart at the seams and developing unsightly stains. So the purpose of Reform Journalism is to mend capitalism, add some frills, take it to the dry-cleaners, add some fabric softener,  co-opt the latest outgroup to model it and appear in commercials, expand the identity politics marketplace, and set the acceptable culture narrative.

"One in which we're able to tell a common (emphasis his) story and not just a bunch of separate stories.... These are areas where we have to do better so our democracy stays strong."

Just what we need... one approved story, condensed and toned down to prevent any unseemly outbreaks of independent thought.

"It seems that the only way to get attention is to engage in the kind of opinion journalism that gets people angry, riled up or revengeful. or just creates controversy and gets attention."

 The Columbia School of Journalism offers a course in opinion writing, so somebody had better alert Obama. It simply will not do for any latter-day Ida Tarbells, Lincoln Steffens or Molly Ivenses to get people riled up and mad about dirty politics and racial and social injustice. Everybody just relax. Controversy and dissent in the lower orders are anathema to the tsunami of capitalism which we only imagine is tossing us about before drowning us. Thrill instead to Obama's honeyed tones. Lay back as the golden beneficent drops of government propaganda trickle down upon you. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

You Have Been Warned

 This email from Google's Blogger platform arrived in my inbox yesterday:


Tue, Apr 25, 6:29 AM (1 day ago)
to me


     As you may know, our Community Guidelines 
( describe the boundaries for what we allow-- and don't allow-- on Blogger. Your post titled "Let Them Eat Birth Control Pills - Or, Black and Bloomberg'd" was flagged to us for review. 
This post was put behind a warning for readers because it contains 
sensitive content; the post is visible at
Your blog readers must acknowledge the warning before being able to read the post/blog.     We apply warning messages to posts that contain sensitive content. If you are interested in having the status reviewed, please update the content to adhere to Blogger's Community Guidelines. Once the content is updated, you may republish it at
This will trigger a review of the post.

     For more information, please review the following resources:

     Terms of Service:
     Blogger Community Guidelines:


     The Blogger Team

Mind you, since this post is more than a dozen years old and among the first that I ever published, I  doubt that a human being actually read, let alone flagged, it. I'm guessing that a machine was alerted by the headline rather than the actual body of the article.  Compared with other things I've written here over the years, it was quite innocuous. It had to do with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's appointment of his crony Cathie Black as New York City schools chancellor, despite her having no education experience, either as a teacher or administrator. Before her brief tenure ended, she'd bemoaned the state of overcrowded schools in a poor section of the city, and said right out loud: "Can't we get some birth control down here?"

Since I don't know what was so allegedly offensive about the post, other than the above quote, I'm not going to 
respond to Google by rewriting it, reposting it and thereby triggering a further review. As I said, nobody is going to search out a 12-year-old post. Even if they Googled all the keywords, it would not lead readers to this article.. Search results for my blog, as well as for many others outside the mainstream, have been suppressed by Google  My "hits" thus began decreasing quite drastically several years ago.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit spooked by this email, especially after reading "The Racket's"s latest salvo aimed at the increasingly vicious activities of Censorship-Industrial Complex.  I did get a bit of a chuckle, though,  out of the blogger "guidelines". After insisting that it does not censor bloggers on its platform, Google then proceeds to gaslight writers  Since they don't inform you what is so offensive or insensitive about your material, they leave it up to you to figure it out and to go censor yourself.
I can't help but wonder if this out-of-the-blue warning from Google is only the first among many, and will eventually lead to all of my nearly 2,000  posts eventually disappearing. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but after reading Taibbi, I think paranoia is a perfectly reasonable reaction, despite the comparatively low visibility of this particular blog.

Meanwhile, if you're not craving a big fat bowl of crunchily delicious Russian Bots after watching the following video  then you're simply not getting with the subliminal advertising program!

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Political Con Goes On

A stew of scandals is bubbling over in the White House. But you'd never know it from the New York Times's Strangelovian leading headline today: "How Democrats Learned to Cast Aside Reservations and Embrace Biden '24."

As far as the Paper of Record is concerned, the shocking admission by a former CIA acting director that Secretary of State Antony Blinken (while a top Biden campaign operative) had solicited a letter with 51 intelligence bigwig signatories that falsely ascribed the Hunter Biden laptop scandal to "Russian disinformation" is not worthy of coverage.

 Ditto for the  high-level IRS official seeking whistleblower protection for information implicating Attorney General Merrick Garland himself in stalling or outright quashing criminal charges against Hunter Biden for evading millions in taxes for money earned on murky foreign business deals.

This same Attorney General, meanwhile, is busily prosecuting a Black socialist group and its elderly leaders. Their alleged crime? They criticized the Ukraine proxy war and they accepted, at most, a few thousand dollars from Russian donors for their charity work. It is now apparently a crime to exercise one's First Amendment rights if the government has deemed them "weaponized."  This story, too, is being studiously ignored by the Times and other establishment media outlets. 

So is a letter by a ranking House Democrat to independent journalist Matt Taibbi, threatening him with prison for the "crime" of conflating two security state acronyms in a Tweet - not, mind you, in his actual congressional testimony regarding government censorship of social media.

 As far as the Gray Lady is concerned, the big story this week is Joe Biden's upcoming re-election announcement. We're told that the only thing that should concern us about Joe Biden is his advanced age. He'd be 86 by the end of his second term. 

Despite what the Times generously euphemizes as his "middling approval ratings," the article makes clear that the only concerned voices that really count are those of the ruling political, donor and consultant classes. The public, as ever, be damned.

Democrats yearn for a fresh face in 2024, according to repeated polls, they just don’t know who that would be.

After Democrats won more races than expected in the 2022 midterm elections, any energy to challenge Mr. Biden quickly dissipated. The left has stayed in line even as Mr. Biden has lately made more explicit appeals toward the center. And would-be rivals have stayed on the sidelines.

Was there ever a more damning assessment of a political party? A more cowed, complacent and corrupt bunch of people has probably never existed. And by "party" I very much mean the de facto Uniparty, of which the Dems are the willfully weaker wing. The only thing that these increasingly authoritarian liberals can do is flap their gerontocratic gums. 

And that goes for the young "progressives" in the mix as well. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York feebly groused to the paper that it's "almost as if" Biden is pandering to GOP talking points, what with his recent harsh actions on immigration, veto of criminal justice reform in Washington, DC,  and allowing oil-drilling on federal lands. But if there's one thing that Biden is good at, it's maintaining the owning classes in the lifestyles to which they're accustomed. So what, therefore, if tens of millions of people are losing health care, food assistance and the very roofs over their heads? Bowman tells the Times and its readers exactly what they want to hear: what really matters is "stability." 

Haven't you heard? "Status Quo with Uncle Joe!" is the new Medicare For All. The insane march to World War III by a cabal of mediocre politicians is Stability You Can Believe In. Let's face it. Sudden relief from everyday misery and chaos would be too much of a shock to the system. 

Now, you might possibly be worried that this group bear-hug from Dems might end up literally cracking Joe Biden's aged spine. But the point is not his aging body or his deteriorating mind. He is as expendable as anyone. The presidency is a group effort. He is just a figurehead or a front-man.

Thanks to the Trump menace, the presidential bar is not only set too low, it's at a subterranean level if it still exists at all. The current White House occupant doesn't hold domestic press conferences any more and nobody even bats an eye.  Even when he did honor this archaic tradition of public accountability, he did so with pre-selected reporters and cue cards supplied by his handlers. Biden has admitted on more than one occasion that "they" have warned him not to talk about this or that.

Therefore, his re-election announcement will be a "low-key" pre-recorded, scripted video.

Philip K. Dick forecast the Biden presidency style way back in the 60s in his futuristic novel The Simulacra. In the book as in reality, there is only one 21st century political party, and it's called the Democratic Republican Party. 

In the scene introducing Dick's futuristic White House, President Kalbfleisch (tr. Veal) has just been delivering televised remarks to the citizens of the United States of Europe and America, warning them of a fascist presidential rival. Noticing a slight slowing of the presidential performance, the lead handler gives the order to "shut if off."

"The Kalbfleisch simulacrum stopped. Its arms stuck out, rigid in their final gesture, the withered face vacuous. The simulacrum said nothing and automatically the TV cameras also shut off, one by one: there was no longer anything for them to transmit and the technicians behind them, all of them Ges (elites with top secret clearance) knew it."


The simulacrum techs congratulate themselves on the president's speech. satisfied that its fear-mongering purpose and its promise of "stability" had resonated with the public. This is despite somewhat regretting they'd nixed a comparison of the Trump-like rival to Hitler. After all, they say, "51 percent of the population would like to see another Hitler."

One of the techs then walks up to the president, "touching it gingerly on the shoulder, as if expecting it, prodded, to resume its activity. It did not."

Simulacra come and go, but the ruling elite who manufacture and maintain them remain more or less the same in the historical grand scheme of things. Maybe next time around, they can build a fresher-faced simulacrum, just as they so successfully did with Barack Obama. The least that they can do, absent a fresh face, is to manufacture a more coherent actor, much like twinkle-eyed Ronald Reagan in his mostly asymptomatic first term.