Saturday, July 30, 2011


Coming Sooner or Later (movie poster treatment by Kat Garcia)

What is the point of writing anything, since the waves are crashing and the tide is turning and the ship is sinking and we are all DOOMED!?!

The New York Times was reporting that all the congress people are going to "huddle" with Obama but five minutes later the huddle fest was apparently off.  Wall Street is bearing down on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Ouch! Sounds like some real contractions in the economy, what with the GDP shrinkage and all.  The Senators are yakking it up over Catfood Commission Two, which from all indications will be the fifth branch of government empowered to pass bills/cut "entitlements" in secret, without debate and best of all, without  C-Span, once some unknown trigger is pulled. It is all quite mysterious and something we won't know for sure until it's a done deal done in a back room.  But we're not going to like it.

In case you were wondering, the fourth branch of government is Standard & Poors, that reputable credit rating agency that gave the big A-OK to toxic subprime mortgage-backed securities.  S&P is vowing to lower the national credit score unless old people are forced to stop selfishly eating and  seeking medical attention.  Oh no!  Another subprime interest rate mess.  Wall Street is now dancing on Pennsylvania Avenue's butt.

I have had enough.  I am going to cheer myself up now and watch my "Grapes of Wrath" DVD from Netflix.

Update 10:45 p.m.  The huddle cuddle muddle is back on at the White House. Dear Leader O told all the senators to wind it down for the night, so everybody go to bed while they negotiate in secret. And that goes for you, peasants!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

From "Day of Rage" on Wall Street, March 2011

The same folks who marched on the New York Stock Exchange last spring, and then camped out in protest for three weeks in front of City Hall earlier this summer, will be back on The Street on Aug. 2.  That's the same day the United States is due to default if the radical right wing of Congress succeeds in pulling off its internal coup d'etat.  No better way to celebrate Debt Ceiling Armageddon and let your voices be heard than to join New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts once again.

These people actually have a little money now.  A baker's dozen of them ("The Bloombergville 13") were arrested last month for disorderly conduct during their marathon street fest/sleepover.  They have $700 left over from their defense fund, and are funneling it back into their movement:  signs, bullhorns, all the paraphernalia for another peaceful but loud protest.  (The first big event was in March.  Called "Day of Rage", it attracted thousands of marchers and no corporate media coverage.  I first learned about it from  Al Jazeera.)

New York's Finest Rousts the Happy Campers from Bloombergville

Here's the official announcement for the Big Event, courtesy of New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts:

Oppose Cutbacks And Austerity Of Any Kind
Gather at 4:30: Meet At The Bull, Just South Of Broadway And Morris Street, At The North End Of Bowling Green Park
As the two U.S. political parties unite to dismantle Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, it’s clear:
The bankers are looting decades-old peoples’ programs and the Democrats can’t help us. Obama can’t help us. Elected officials can’t help us.
It’s time for the people to meet and take the bull by the horns!
The students, union activists, and others who organized "Bloombergville" -- the three-week anti-austerity occupation on Wall Street’s doorstep -- have called for an August 2 General Assembly/Speakout on Wall Street, at the bull, from 4:30 to 7, to protest the ongoing pro-bank, anti-people cutbacks and gather into working groups to plan for the September 17 occupation of Wall Street.
This is a call for every teacher, home health aid, parent, student, tenant, librarian, city/state employee, childcare provider, nurse, patient, employed or unemployed worker or recipient of Social Security or any type of public assistance: on August 2 come to Wall Street – the scene of the crimes now being perpetrated on the people – and make your voice heard!
The current depression-level crisis is not due to lack of revenue. It’s due to theft. The trillions that the banks are sitting on right now? That’s our money. Whether through taxes; the looting of pension and social security contributions; or the wealth we created from our labor – all of that belongs to us. Come to Wall Street August 2 and strategize -- on how to get that back!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Emails

I get emails all the time from one progressive group or another, asking me to call my congresspeople for one cause or another -- usually to either support or oppose some pending piece of legislation.

But today was a first from a presidential campaign asking me to help to phone-bomb the opposition and then report back to Chicage HQ to let them know "how the call went."

President Obama's campaign speech address to the American People the other night included just such a call to action, to bombard Congress and let them know we want more of that cool bipartishit and that we want to be compromised even more.  People apparently listened and crashed several congressional websites and tied up the Capitol phone lines.  Must have driven the Republican staffers nuts.

I guess the thrill has worn off, because I just got another email from Obama Campaign Chief Jim Messina.  He notes that since my own particular congressman and senators are all Democrats, I should just call John Boehner direct (202.225.0600) and then report back to Obamaland. (I guess Obama doesn't really mean it when he blames his own party, too, for their alleged bargaining intransigence. When he says he wants to take heat from his own party, I think what he really means is he wants to just bask in its glow)  From the Messina missive:

Here's what's happening: President Obama proposed the balanced approach of raising the debt ceiling paired with responsible steps to reduce our country's long-term debt --  groveling before and begging asking oil companies, corporations, and the richest Americans to do their part rather than shoving austerity down the throats of placing the entire burden on seniors and the middle class.

A deal has been close at times, but an ideological faction of House Republicans has been effectively holding our economy hostage -- making extreme demands like ending Medicare as we know it, gutting Social Security, and rejecting any compromises that might make millionaires or big corporations pay their fair share to end the obscene wealth disparity and create jobs get our debt under control.
Don't Quit Me, John
Our records show you have only Democratic representatives in Congress. But House Speaker John Boehner -- who is leading the Republicans in negotiations -- needs to hear what I want you to tell him Americans like you think.
Here's what the President said on Monday:

"The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. So I'm asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message."

The President doesn't make a direct request of all of us like this very often. Take a minute right now to call Speaker Boehner -- then let us know how it went, so we can figure out just how dwindling out base of support really is.

I don't want any more compromise. I don't want a balanced approach, which stands for continued corporate welfare for the rich, with just a tad of chained CPI on my future Social Security benefits.  I don't think it's a good idea to raise the Medicare eligibility age to "balance out" the beleaguered wealthy "folks" losing mortgage deductions on their vacation homes.  We the People have been compromised enough.

Right after the Messina missive arrived, I got another email from Showdown in America also asking that I call Congress, for an entirely different reason:

You can make a real difference and change the debate in Washington today.

Call your Representative and tell them to Make Wall Street Pay their fair share to raise revenues and create jobs.

Let your Representative know you won't stand for cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare—and neither should they!

We're not in a debt crisis; we're in a revenue crisis. And it's high time the folks that broke the economy—Wall Street, Bank of America, big banks, oil companies, and big boys—paid their fair share to fix it. It's time to change the debate in Washington.

On second thought, I believe I will take Messina's advice and call Boehner..... using the script from Showdown in America.  Then I will report back to Chicago Obama HQ and and let them know what I said, and how it went.  If you, too, want to call the Weeper and complain, here's a suggested talking point: 
 Politicians never tire of tropes, and there’s one tickling many on their tongues these days: Americans want Washington to deal with its debt, just like we do in our own families. Which is funny, given that American families have never been so deeply indebted. In 2004, total U.S. family debt exceeded income for the first time since the Federal Reserve began tracking it, according to a Center for American Progress report.
It was the best of times, it is the worst of times.

Update 7/28:  I got through to Boehner's office and talked to a living person. I then reported my call to Messina.  In the answer box titled "How did (blank) respond to your request for bipartisanship in debt ceiling negotiations", I wrote: "First, I don't care about the debt ceiling phony crisis and I told her so.  I said I cared about jobs, jobs and nothing but the jobs.  I said I didn't want him and Obama reaching any Grand Bargain about my future social security benefits. She said 'Thank You Very Much.  I will see to it that the Speaker is made aware of your concerns.' (pure boilerplate constituent-speak).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the New Deal to a Raw Deal

But do you know what people are fed up with most of all?
They’re fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word. They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table. And when these Americans come home at night, bone-tired, and turn on the news, all they see is the same partisan three-ring circus here in Washington. They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They’re offended by that. And they should be. -- Barack Obama's Speech, 7/25/11

Clueless much?

What should offend most people is the fact that Washington (and that includes Obama) has taken the humanitarian crisis of massive and unrelenting unemployment and turned it into an utterly phony Debt Ceiling/Deficit Crisis. And what passes for TV news has turned journalism on its ear.  Rather than Republican seditionists being called out for what they are, they are given equal time in the name of "fair and balanced".  The pundit class and the President are on the same page in thinking (or pretending to think) that Republicans actually have the interests of the country at heart. Begging traitors and terrorists to make deals is symptomatic not only of political weakness, but a kind of pathological complicity.  And we are supposed to  feel sorry for a beleagured president as he asks us to call Congress and demand some niceties. And help his re-election, of course.

(The fact that John Boehner lied through his teeth in his follow-up riposte should come as no surprise.  Like many a mendacious psychopath, he could probably pass a polygraph test with flying colors -- he has no conscience, no shame.)

Obama took some precious TV bully pulpit prime time and wasted it.  He could have reassured the nation and announced that he would invoke the 14th Amendment and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Of course, that would not have been in keeping with the maintenance of National Crisis Mode, and would have ruined the 11th hour rescue in which he unilaterally orders the Debt Ceiling raised anyway, and makes us all so grateful we will become true believers in cutting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security to save them.  Instead of mouthing the same tired platitudes of shared family sacrifice and timidly "asking" hedge fund managers to pay just a little more, he could have called for an increase in the FICA tax on only the first hundred grand to "protect Social Security for future generations." (Congressman Dennis Kucinich is pointing to the many occasions when Candidate O promised just this option.)

Kucinich asks: "In a lifetime, will our party have journeyed from the New Deal to the Raw Deal?"

Exactly.... and the journey to perdition is commencing at such breathtaking speed, we are left sitting open-mouthed, not knowing what has even hit us. Or, as Paul Krugman put it in his blog today: "Meh, Bleh and Eek."

Update: Speaking of mendacity and cluelessness, Dean Baker now writes that Obama committed a real bad gaffe (or lied) about the origins of the deficit. Obama blamed the trillions number purely on the Bush tax cuts and wars. But according to Baker:

The huge deficits came about entirely as a result of the economic downturn brought about by the collapse of the housing bubble. This misunderstanding of the origins of the budget deficit could explain President Obama’s willingness to make large cuts to core social welfare programs, like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Do you think that Obama's "misunderstanding" has anything to do with the fact that his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was chairman of the NY Fed during the bubble and collapse --  that he was asleep at the switch or complicit when the banks were recklessly funding and investing in and selling toxic subprime mortgages?  Or that his current Chief of Staff, Megabanker Bill Daley, was on the board of the public/private Fannie Mae when it was buying up Countrywide mortgages and enriching its CEOs with obscene bonuses even as it too burst from the bubble of its own  greed?  The Oval Office is a corporate racket, notwithstanding the equally corrupt lunatics of the Republican wing of the Uniparty.  Obama's minions are among the tangled web of culprits who helped cause the suffering that just won't stop, the ones who left we the taxpayers holding the bag. Not only have they never been held to account, they have been rewarded with the job of running the  country.  And yet we still wonder why Obama is doing nothing about jobs for the rest of us.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bargain Hunter in Chief

Standard & Poors, the same credit rating agency that gave AAA ratings to Enron just a few days before it went bust, the same tool of Wall Street that said subprime mortgage-backed securities were just dandy investments, now runs the United States.  Actually, Wall Street and the "jittery investors" and the profit-bloated corporations run the United States, and S&P is just the messenger.  Either you lower the deficit by four trillion at the same time you raise the debt ceiling, or we will give you a bad score, USA!  The four trillion in cuts, of course, is the same figure Obama has proffered to the Republicans, with no urging from them at all.

He said he wanted a Grand Bargain with revenues, but the latest scuttlebut this morning is that Harry Reid agreed to a 2.7 trillion cut with no revenues.  And the world is ending, so President Obama will have no choice but to "cave" to the GOP yet again.  And he'll claim he is a responsible adult for doing so, and that he must now be re-elected as the hero who allowed Grandma to get her social security check this month. 

This is all pre-arranged bullshit, of course.  His only goal is his own re-election and to hell with the Depression and 20 percent real unemployment and actual people.  It'll be interesting to see what he will campaign on now.  The Joy of Suffering?  Masochism for the Masses?

I'd love to see a contingent of congressional Democrats converging on the White House to inform the president that he no longer enjoys support from his own party and should give up seeking a second term. In my dreams of course.

Let's start another thread.  The situation will likely be changing by the hour.  It's all part of Kabuki Suspense Armageddon Theater, and we're just the little people in the peanut gallery.

Friday, July 22, 2011


David Brooks probably thought he was cleverly channeling John Lennon in his New York Times column today.  He could barely contain his glee in his latest screed, titled "The Grand Bargain Lives!" 
Imagine  there's no heaven you’re a member of Congress. You have your own preferred way to screw your constituents reduce debt. If you’re a Democrat, it probably involves protecting your own sorry asses Medicare and raising taxes. If you’re a Republican, it probably involves cutting the throats of the masses spending, killing reforming Medicare and keeping taxes imaginary low....

.....You are being asked to support a foggy approach, not a specific plan. You are being asked to do this even though you have no faith in the other party and limited faith in the leadership of your own. You are being asked to risk your political life for an approach that bears little resemblance to what you would ideally prefer.
Do you do this? I think you do.
You do it because all the other options are worse. Doing nothing could lead to default and the end of The Oligarchy American economic supremacy.*
I really should stop reading Bobo.  I don't have a blood pressure cuff in the house, but if I did it would have exploded.  I fired off a response, and The Times in its infinite wisdom is holding it in the censorship bin***.  I guess they are afraid it might cause the underarms of David's Brooks Brothers shirt to dampen with odorless dew.... not that he actually reads any of the comments.  His glasses would shatter.
Dear David......

Imagine you're a member of the dwindling middle class, you have junk or no health insurance, and you are facing wage cuts while your boss expects you to do twice the work. Imagine you face a choice between paying your rent or your electric bill this month. Imagine you're a jobless 62-year-old widow counting the days for your Medicare and Social Security benefits to kick in and hope against hope you don't get sick for the next three years. Imagine you're an elementary school student whose house just got foreclosed because your father lost his job and now you all have to live in a seedy motel. Imagine when you go back to school in the fall, your class size has grown to 50 because the district just laid off a thousand teachers. Imagine that you turn on your TV (assuming you still have cable) and you see some empty suit spewing nonsense about a Grand Bargain. Imagine if you or a family member depends on a paltry Social Security check and the president you elected cavalierly now declares that check may just not make it on the 3rd of the month. And just go eat your peas and suffer with joy.
Imagine if you will that the Beltway pundits and the politicians they cheerlead had to change places with the real Americans. Would you care about the deficit and the debt ceiling then? Somehow, I doubt it. Would you re-elect any of the politicians who are literally pulling the rug out from under millions of people? I doubt that too. 
So live on in your dream world and consider that the real people, the genuine human beings in this country, have run out of options. And then write another fun column about The Grand Bargain, and see if anyone cares.
Love, Karen **

Get Out the Wire Hangers and Clean This Mess Up!
* Vetted and approved by the White House Ministry of Truth Office of Public Engagement.
** Cross-posted on "Off Times Square",
*** Cross-posted much later by NYT Comment Moderators upon surviving the vetting process after all. I apologize for the redundancies!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Possible Organic Explanation for Michele Bachmann

I had an ah-ha moment today when I read about the Michele Bachmann migraine revelation.  I don't pretend to be a diagnostician, but I have read my Oliver Sacks and I  know some sufferers. What is fascinating about this neurological disorder is the pre-migraine "aura" experienced by many victims.  It has been described variously as a dream-like, religious experience or an LSD-like episode replete with visuals.  It may even be neurologically related to the "white light" phenomenon of the near-death experience, leading some people to embrace religion after coming back from the great beyond.

Bachmann has previously described a dream of God telling her to run for office.  The apostle Paul may have been undergoing a migraine aura when he suffered his sudden blindness and then had his vision of Jesus telling him to go forth.  The medieval mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen apparently tripped on so-called "scintillating scotoma" before her own blinding pain hit.

In a poem called "God Speaks to Me in Headache" LoveMinus0 writes:

When I get a migraine, I feel fundamentally religious
and drop to my knees in the pre-formatted position
for prayer: forgiveness, relief and reconciliation.

My temple is filled with holy resonance
and spiritual compression; eyes shut - doors sealed.
Hands grasp desperately over my ears, searching for
The Door.....
And beyond the mysticism of the aura, migraine sufferer Joan Didion writes:  “There certainly is what doctors call a ‘migraine personality,’ and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organized, perfectionist."

Something to think about.  I now find myself actually empathizing with Michele Bachmann.  My desire to see her not become president has nothing to do with her health issues.  And whatever Rovian smear campaign that has sprung up accusing her of being some kind of drug addict is pretty despicable. 

Hildegard of Bingen's Migraine

Ummm.... It IS the Economy, Stupid

New York Times economy writer David Leonhardt, falling in line with the  Administration's full court PR charm offensive on "How to Share the Sacrifice and Learn to Love It", has written a piece on how Team Obama thinks it can win even though the economy stinks. (Thanks, "DraftSpitzer", for sending the link).

Another article in today's Times today gushes how "buoyed" Obama is now that there is some real bipartishit coming out of Congress.  Apparently, the fact that the Uniparty can agree to impose suffering on the masses and enrich the corporations is cause for celebration.  As long as it puts the president in a good mood, what more could we peasants ask for?  To further lift him out of his doldrums, the aptly named Moody's is walking back its Debt Ceiling Doom rating threat.
The "Headwind" headline is ripped straight from the obsessive-compulsive brain of whatever White House PR hack writes the  speeches.  The president can't get enough of the temporary headwinds buffeting the economy and which, of course, are merely passing zephyrs in his Panglossian world vision --- the Japanese earthquake is still sending shock waves across the ocean, says he.  Then there are those rising gas prices, which actually started falling even before he unnecessarily released the oil reserves.  And those misleading, increasing unemployment numbers, which are always flukes and always so much shockingly higher than expected, even though teachers by the thousands are being laid off this summer, when school's out and nobody notices.

But this excerpt is the real giveaway that Leonhardt's piece came indirectly from Orwell's Ministry of Truth the Obama '12 machine:
The clearest statement of this idea has come from David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s top political adviser. “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of G.D.P. or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Mr. Plouffe said at a recent Bloomberg Breakfast here. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate. They’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’ ”
Not surprisingly, Republicans seized on the comment to say the White House was out of touch. They are preparing to follow the path of not only Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, but also — in slogans, if not policies — Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, which coined “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Actually, it wasn't  the Republicans who first seized upon Plouffe's ham-handed bluster.  The Progressive blogosphere glommed onto it first.  A recent phenomenon I have noticed is that whenever liberals take Obama to task for his latest outbreak of conservativism, Republicans seize upon the criticism, making Obama their instant victim without having to expend much effort  themselves.  Not much we can do about that, except to say over and over again to David Brooks and William Kristol and Charles Krauthhammer:  Take him -- he's yours!  He wants to rip up the social safety net as much as you do.  He is embracing the latest Baby Grand (son of big Grand) Bargain from the Gang of Six or Seven even though he hasn't even read the thing yet.  It is still in its fetal stage: two pages of bullet points.

Nowhere in his article does Leonhardt mention the pushback against Obama from his former supporters. As of 7:30 a.m. today, all 19 reader comments posted to the Leonhardt story were Obama-negatives from the usual liberal crowd.  And not one clothespin (hold your nose, lesser of two evils) voter among them.  More and more, it's not the Economy Stupide.  It's the fact that a Democratic president is thinking about cutting Social Security and Medicare and other domestic programs during what is increasingly looking like a Long Depression.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Confidence Fairytale Theater

Obama pal David Cote, the multimillionaire union-busting CEO of the criminally convicted polluter Honeywell International, went on "Meet the Press" yesterday to talk about his lack of confidence.  He's hoarding his record obscene profits, he says, because he is just too uncertain about the future.  In order to Win the Future like his president wants, he has to have reassurances from government  that it'll find a way to not tax his company's offshore billions and also do something about all that annoying regulation.  The multimillions in fines from his record number of SuperFund toxic waste sites and the radioactive sludge episode have left him feeling mighty unconfident.

Since the topic of the Sunday talk fest was Jobs and the Economy, the alleged moderator (David Gregory) didn't bother asking Cote (which Gregory pronounced "Cootie") about his lockout of whistleblowing unions and his company's recent criminal conviction.  Nobody in the mainstream media has ever challenged him about this.  Gregory eagerly asked, "Are politics unable to meet the challenges we (meaning corporations) face?"

From the transcript, Cote's reply:  
It's the sort of thing that scares me is -- we're -- I'm -- Honeywell 's a global company , 37 billion in sales, got 130,000 people, half our sales and people outside the USA. Traveled the world a lot and the world has changed, we went from a billion participants in the global economy to four billion over the last 20 years, yet we still act like we did 20 years ago. And we need an American competitiveness agenda that gets our finances right, gets energy policy , math and science education , infrastructure, and we can't even do something like this. It's very scary as a businessman.
And later.....

I always find it interesting when I hear government say "We need to create jobs."  And I say, "No, actually, government doesn't create jobs.  Government can create an environment where jobs can be created.  And I think it's important to distinguish between the two."

Cote, who is a Republican, was supposed to have gotten his chance to ask not what he can do for his country, but what his country can do for him, at a special lunch with Democratic senators a few weeks ago.  But then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois Sen.Dick Durbin got a letter from the President of the United Steelworkers Union:
Honeywell - one of the nation’s largest multinationals - would seem a poor choice for such a discussion since the Company has engaged in a lockout of 228 USW members at Local 7-669 in Metropolis, Illinois since June 2010, seeking drastic concessions from our members. For years this Honeywell facility has put USW members and the community at risk innumerable times because of multiple health and safety standard violations cited by OSHA, the NRC and the EPA. If CEO Cote really desires to create jobs in the U.S. he could immediately create 228 good paying jobs by simply ending this disastrous lockout of our members in Metropolis, Illinois.

The meeting was subsequently cancelled. But Durbin, whose constituents include those locked-out workers, also appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday.  Although he was in a different segment than Cote (with whom he also served on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction "Catfood" Commission) I like to imagine that the two of them met in the Green Room and exchanged pleasantries.  Both of them wholeheartedly agree, by the way, that Social Security needs to be "fixed." 

From the Durbin interview transcript, words evidently failed him as he choked up recounting the consensual awesomeness of Obama: 

David, let me tell you, if you could've been in the White House Cabinet Room , as I was, for six separate meetings and watched this president of the United States patiently listen to each member of the leadership in Congress lay out their ideas of where to go and how we can do this together, if you know that he started the meeting saying, "I'm putting everything on the table so that we can have a reasonable, comprehensive approach to it," you saw real leadership in action. I can't think of another president in my memory...


"It's Very Scary as a Businessman".... Now Eat Your Peas, Pod People!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Friday Night Massacre, Obama-Style

In a Friday night leak designed to garner the least possible amount of attention, an unnamed White House source not authorized to speak even though he was absolutely directed to speak by his boss, has announced what we were all pretty much expecting:  Elizabeth Warren is out as chief of the consumer protection agency she herself created.

Now that he has embraced cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and the wrath of his base is sliding like water off his thick-skinned teflon persona , why not go in for the kill and stab the progressive community one more time for good measure, while they are still reeling from the shock of the past week.  And do it at arm's length, of course, right at the start of a summer weekend.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Equal Opportunity Pain

I haven't been able to find an official transcript of President Obama's press conference yet, but here are some salient points that managed to find their way into my numbed and disbelieving brain:

-- The shared sacrifice mantra.  We can't ask the "less fortunate" to suffer even more without asking the millionaires and billionaires to also suffer just a tad.  Because misery loves company.  And if Grandma has to endure starvation and eviction and want, then Billionaire Corporate Jet Owner should have to pay "just a little more" to pretend we are all fellow travelers in this Great Journey of Austerity.  Again, Obama reminds us that as a wealthy fellow himself, he too will be selflessly paying a little bit more.  So everybody shut the hell up and suffer with joy.

-- The false family-government equivalence, again. " A family doesn't run up a credit card bill because otherwise they can't send Junior to college or fix the boiler.... so neither should the government".  Bullshitsky.  Families can't print money or sell their debt to China.

-- If we Do Something Big It Will Send a Signal.  A signal to whom?  He didn't say.  The mythical fence-sitting independent voters of the Heartland?  Nah.  Wall Street and corporations making about a third more in obscene profits this quarter and thus are so skittish they're afraid to hire?  Yep.

--" I am willing to let my base hate me, so the Republicans should just welcome their base's hatred too."  Because even corrupt politicians can totally embrace the misery-loves-company meme?  No.  Obama doesn't care about Democratic voters because they will hold their noses and pick him over Michele Bachmann.  Republicans do care about their base, because it's made up in equal parts of  crazy Tea Partiers and K Street lobbyists.  More proof that Obama is the antithesis of FDR, who welcomed the hatred of the bankers and was thus labeled a "traitor to his class."  Obama kisses the feet of the base bankers who basically are his new base.

--" I am still puzzled by the Republican pattern of voting against all my proposals".  Ever heard the word disingenuous, Mr. O?  But wait, he also said he never reads articles or watches news shows about himself, so I guess he has virtually no clue about the reality of anything.  He said he has a thick skin so the articles he never reads have no effect on him anyway.  He has no idea that Mitch McConnell has said the GOP's sole goal is that he not be given a second term.  Because he doesn't watch TV.  He has no idea.....

-- We should be sure that current beneficiaries of Social Security, "as much as possible", are not effected by changes to the program.  So current recipients may be affected just a little and future ones a lot?  How very reassuring.  Raising the retirement age is just one of many measures that are on the table.  No specifics, of course.  He is open to means-testing Medicare.  He again refers to his own looming 50th birthday and golly, he is going to be getting his AARP card soon, and yep, he's one of those millionaires who might have to be means-tested!  (He fails to mention that his health care needs, present and future, will be taken care of by a VIP retirement/benefits package shared by all the miscreants of Congress).  But the stenographic press corps chuckles appreciately anyway.

-- Chuck Todd marks the 493rd time he has been called on to the exclusion of 99 percent of the other reporters in the room.  Jake Tapper may be tied with him.  I don't know.

Did I leave anything out? 

Body Language Open to Interpretation (AP )

Thursday, July 14, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Silly

As Act II, Scene 74 in the melodrama that is Debt Ceiling Monster Horror Chiller Theater grinds on in Swamplandia, D.C., there's a burlesque act with really cheap seats playing out in the Heartland.  It's known as Michele Bachmann Runs for President.  In the latest episode, Michele signs an anti-pornography pledge and states that marriage is the fundamental unit of government. 
Then she has a dream in which God tells her she is destined to become Pope Queen of America.  Here, direct from her dream to our nightmare, is a sneak preview of what Michele will be wearing to her Inaugural Ball in January 2013:

Warrior Queen of the New American Theocracy

So while Barack Obama is casting himself as the second coming of Ronald Reagan and offering to sacrifice his very presidency in a heroic act of martyrdom for something not quite clear, Michele is offering us her own version of fantasy politics.  If you're bored with the roguish antics of geeky Eric Cantor, the vapid smiling of Nancy Pelosi ("President Obama was so gra-a-a-a-cious"), the tortoise-like, face-saving blinking of Mitch McConnell of the KickCan faction of the GOP, here are a few of my favorite Bachmann pearls of wisdom to get you through these hazy crazy days of summer:

I think marriage is very important, it's the fundamental unit of our government.

I'm not a deep thinker on all of this.  I wish I was.  I wish I was more knowledgeable, but I'm not a scientist.

But we also know that the very Founders that wrote these documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.

 It would be fun to have someone in the WhiteHouse who has worked in the private sector... and someone who understands that wealth creation is a good thing and they want more of it. Wealth is good.

We're running out of rich people in this country.

It isn't that I was born thinking I had to be president. I'm getting a lot of encouragement to run from people across the country. I don't believe this is a rash decision.

I think you may see again a rise at the federal government level for a call for the federal constitutional amendment, because people want to make sure that this definition of marriage remains secure, because after all, the family is the fundamental unit of government. 
Notice that the first and last quotes seem to equate the words "marriage" and "family" as the fundamental government units in Michele's brain --  possibly displacing the executive and judicial branches.  Of course, these words are thinly disguised code in the right wing dictionary of homophobonics. "Ex-gay" is another fun phrase. It makes about as much sense as unwed mother Bristol Palin's revirgination abstinence miracle.  But as Michele readily admits, she is no deep thinker and no scientist, and therein lies her populist appeal.  Freedom from thought is one of the hallmarks of fascism. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Biblical Rope-A-Dope or Grand Guignol Bargain?

Biblical Brinkmanship (Caravaggio)
The ongoing melodrama of Debt Ceiling Armageddon reminds me of the Old Testament legend of Abraham and Isaac.  Obama the sage patriarch is acting on a dare from the magical Deity (Republican Deficit Hawk) to sacrifice his beloved son (the New Deal social safety net) on the  altar of austerity to prove his worthiness.  At the last minute, of course, a deal is reached. "Never mind," chuckles some Better Angel. "The Wall Street god hath blinked. Thou just established thy cred.  Now goest thou and lead the people through the desert of a second term." 

The latest horror story to emerge from the closed-door talks is that Obama is offering to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, in keeping with the recent shocking proposal from Sens. Joe Liebermann and Tom Coburn.  Lawrence O'Donnell has an interesting theory on why the president is seemingly out-partying the Tea Party -- it's all part of what he calls "the most masterful rope-a-dope ever performed by a president against an opposition party in Congress." 

I wish I could believe that, but I don't.  Even if true that Obama is only pretending to put Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block to bluffingly appease the gods of a supply-side economic theory that was debunked decades ago, it's a cruel tactic.  There are millions of uninsured and underinsured people just counting the days till they reach 65.  Raising the retirement age, cutting benefits through a bait and switch change in cost of living calculations,  cavalierly suggesting that as long as we're trimming the waste, we might as well throw the New Deal under the bus too -- it's just boggles the mind.  It is either the most complete betrayal of democracy by a Democratic president in history, or it's a giant practical joke/game of chicken at the expense of the peace of mind of countless suffering people. From Monday's press conference:

"We keep on talking about this stuff and we have these high-minded pronouncements about how we've got to get control of the deficit and how we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. Well, let's step up. Let's do it. I'm prepared to do it. I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done. And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing -- if they mean what they say that this is important."
The Raise-the-Age plan would not even put that much of a dent in the deficit -- so just like the phony Reaganomics talking point that tax cuts pay for themselves, the Obama Trial Balloon serves mainly an ideological purpose.   The Congressional Budget Office found that raising the Medicare age to 67 would save only $124.8 billion between 2014 and 2021.... sounds like a lot, but it's really only a drop removed from the Medicare budget.

And if the provision ends up in Obama's so-called Grand Bargain, or even the Half-Grand Boehner Bargain, Democrats not only will lose any political capital they gained from their defeat of Paul Ryan's Mediscare voucher plan -- they'll be partially accepting it.  Raising the age would force 65 and 66-year-olds (or, if they're lucky, their employers) to continue buying private insurance . According to the Kaiser Family Foundation,  raising the eligibility age would  “result in an estimated net increase of $5.6 billion in out-of-pocket costs for 65- and 66-year-olds, and $4.5 billion in employer retiree health-care costs.” Also, the influx of older people into the state exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act would increase premiums by an estimated three percent.

Obama to Ryan: Can I Borrow This?

 Moreover, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposal would not even decrease Medicare spending that much, because younger Medicare beneficiaries are healthier than older ones and don't cost the system nearly as much as the average beneficiary. 

In other words, keep the statistically healthier mid-60s age group in the claws of private insurance companies for the longest possible time to maximize their profits while they're pretending to save taxpayers money. It's a classic case of bait and switch.  Heads they win, tails we lose.  All the "savings" (premiums) go to the predatory private insurers and the politicians they have bought and paid for.  Only the people will pay -- assuming, of course, they have any money.

Make no mistake.  The Grand Bargain, if it passes, should be renamed the Grand Guignol Bargain. Under it, more people will unnecessarily die waiting for their Medicare to kick in. If Obama had any humanity, he'd call for lowering the age, not raising it. If we as a nation had any humanity, we would have Medicare for All.
A Plan of Gruesome Grandiosity

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Futuristic Movement of Monstrous Proportions

Barack and Michelle Obama today announced they are combining their theme songs -- "Winning the Future" and "Let's Move" into one all-purpose slogan in keeping with the current austerity campaign to trim government waste.

The President wants to Win the Future by investing in green jobs -- preferably low-wage and non-union, so we can out-compete the rest of the Third World.  Michelle wants us to eat less and exercise more.  As the President is so fond of obsessively and fallaciously saying, families and governments are exactly the same -- overweight slackers who need to tighten our belts.

So what if this month's spike in the unemployment rate is mainly due to the massive national layoffs of teachers and other public workers?  So what if boards of education throughout the land are being forced to shorten the school week to three or four days?  The kids are becoming nothing more than bloated desk potatoes anyway.  They need to get out more, stay healthy for the below-minimum wage jobs of the future. 

And what about those senior citizens?  Everybody knows your metabolism slows down as you get older. So that's why Obama and his Republican co-conspirators bipartisan negotiators have come up with the nifty idea of chained consumer price formulae.  Once you start collecting your Social Security -- if the politicians have their way, at around 68 or 70 -- you will oh so gradually see a decrease in  benefits.... say, about the cost of only a bite of that candy bar you know you don't really need, every single month for the rest of your life.  So if and when you make it to 95, you'll be as thin as a rail and down to only one meal a day on the few hundred a month you'll then be collecting.  You see, the President cares about your well-being.  He knows change is hard.  Father Knows Best.  ( And if you didn't sign his fatherhood pledge last month, you're just being a selfish ideologue.)

That's why the President is not sweating the rising unemployment rate.  The headwinds of the crappy economy are evaporating all his sweat, and they should be cooling you down too.  By Election Day, joblessness may be up to 13 percent -- but not to worry.  It's a structural thing, the new normal, and it's all according to plan.  The corporations really do want to keep jobs here, but they just don't have the confidence yet.  Wages here are still way too high.  Why pay somebody $8 an hour when they can get a Bangladeshi child to do the same thing for pennies?

The idea is to turn the United States into such a great Third World Country that other nations will start offshoring their jobs to us.  It's already happening in Sweden and the "right to work" (anti-union) state of Virginia:

Swedish corporate leaders, ironically, are now trying to exploit those wider U.S. gaps. IKEA pays its factory workers in Sweden a minimum $19 an hour. In Virginia, IKEA workers doing the same exact work start at $8. IKEA looks on the United States, local union organizer Bill Street matter-of-factly observed earlier this month, “the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico.” (Labor Notes).

Anti-immigration advocates love to complain that Mexicans cross the border to steal our low-paying restaurant and migrant farm jobs, have their anchor babies and grab up all our wonderful free health care.  How ironic that Mexico is a major medical tourism destination for Americans with no or crappy health coverage.  For example, the cost of a knee replacement in Mexico is $10.500 compared to $25,000 here. And there are recovery center options at seaside resorts, too.  Anyway, illegal immigration is actually slowing down because word is finally getting out in Mexico that the American economy really, really stinks. Again, all according to plan. Immigration reform legislation may not even be needed.

But I digress.  This is all a Grand Plan, for our own good.  The Social Safety Net is overrated.  We're just trapped in that net like a bunch of flailing fish who are too stupid to know what's good for us.  The President is going to slash that net and allow us to escape into the Deep, free at last.

Flagellation of the Willing

Friday, July 8, 2011

Unemployment Figures Won't Hurt Obama: David Plouffe

Okay, I was half-kidding when I called Obama "evil" in my last post.  But today I have a new diagnosis:  deluded sociopath.  The jobless figures just came out this morning, and as usual, they're worse than expected.  And if you're wondering why the Administration doesn't seem all that concerned, it's because they are in fact not at all concerned.

According to White House Advisor David Plouffe:

The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family? (Bloomberg News)
Translation: Americans are so selfish they are only in it for themselves.  Ask not what you can do for your country or fellow men, but ask what my President can do for the top two percent of wage earners, corporations, the Wall Street elites, and the Military-Industrial complex.  It'll all trickle down eventually.

Paul Krugman thinks we should be more aghast than usual at the new monthly report:

Almost no job creation, with slow private-sector growth offset by falling public-sector employment; a falling employment-population ratio; and (I don’t know how many people have picked this up), an actual decline in wages, albeit a small one.

The politicians are all buying into Reagan voodoo economics at this point, confident that cutting trillions from the budget will miraculously create the Confidence Fairy and inspire the money-hoarding tax-evading multinationals to create jobs, jobs, jobs.  They are wrong, wrong, wrong.  And I think they know it and just don't care.

Arriving Soon... From Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yanking the Chain

Both the New York Times and The Washington Post have stories today on The Unthinkable.  Social Security is very much on the table, the once-sacred cow of all self-interested politicians is about to be butchered into chunks.  It's Big!  It's Sweeping! It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really do something huge to tackle the deficit!

The whole thing seems to be tied to something called the "chained Consumer Price Index" -- which would change the way, for instance, Social Security cost of living increases are determined.  Here and here are some explanations. In a nutshell, chained CPI would result in any beneficiaries making it to age 95 receiving such reduced benefits that they'll  either starve to death or wish for death. Judging from the controlled leaks coming from the semi-permeable budget negotiations, this proposed chained CPI would also have the effect of stealthily changing the tax code and raising billions more in revenue -- but apparently Republicans are having none of it, even if it means giving up the twisted David Brooks fantasy of getting rid of Granny so the grandkids can get theirs. 

This whole story may, after all, be nothing but a hot air balloon powered by the White House propaganda engine to make us all breathe a huge sigh of relief when it comes to pass that President Obama was only bluffing the Republicans, to be able show a grateful nation how craven and intransigent they truly are.... that they are such fools that they turned down his brave machete to save their precious corporate jet loophole.  He is trying to out-Tea Party the Tea Party, and still they aren't buying what he is selling.  Even David Brooks has been reduced to a quivering mass of fear. 

Still, the very fact that Social Security "improvement" is being bandied about at all, when it has nothing to do with the almighty deficit and the totally contrived debt crisis, should have us worried. The rumor I really want to be hearing is how the cap on FICA taxes is going to be raised above the current first $105,000 of income.  But I'll wait awhile before hitting the panic button and launching a full-scale attack on Obama for being the worst of all possible evils. Right now he is merely equivalently evil with None of the Above, Generic Republican, or Blank. 

** Update: From Bold Progressives, here is a petition to be delivered to Obama Campaign HQ in Chicago, with a handy box to write your own personal message, should you be so inclined. I was, I did. 

And thanks to James T. and Jay for the Glenn Greenwald heads-up.  Read it and weep. And realize that signing the petition above will make you feel better but will probably just cause gales of derisive laughter in Chi-town.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Polluted Politics

The CEO of a multinational conglomerate with one of the country's worst pollution records, and the perpetrator of one of the most egregiously punitive union lockouts in United States history, is now advising Senate Democrats on job creation.  Translation: he is going to tell a cadre of Senate Democrats how to make it easier for him and his corporate cohort to "stimulate" those ephemeral jobs by not raising taxes and maybe even cutting some taxes.  And the Senators might also want to ease some of those pesky environmental regulations that have resulted in the slew of fines and criminal convictions plaguing his company lately. Oh, and maybe he can whisper a few sweet nothings in their ears over dessert about that annoying union blowing the whistle on his illegal radioactive sludge storage last year, and who just can't take the hint and leave him the hell alone after being locked out of their jobs for over a year now.

David Cote, head honcho of Honeywell International, is actually being  deployed to tomorrow's lunch with the Dems by his buddy Barack Obama, just as he was deployed to the Cable TV news circuit to talk up the president's accomplishments this week, just as he was deployed to sit on the infamous Cat Food Commission to slash the social safety net, just as he was deployed to quell the rumblings from the United States Chamber of Commerce over health insurance reform, just as he was deployed to work with Health and Human Services to run a PR campaign on Medicare waste, just as he was deployed to travel with the president to India last year to help ship even more American jobs overseas. Cote has been described as one of the President's closest business advisors. 

(You can read my previous posts on the Obama-Cote connection here and here.) 

Honeywell is the number one political contributor in the country. According to labor journalist Mike Elk, it has increased its contributions by 400 percent since Obama took office in 2008.  It has received $13 billion in government contracts, mainly in defense, in the past 10 years.  Honeywell also has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of "Superfund" toxic waste sites in the country.

The company was convicted of a felony this spring for improperly storing radioactive waste at its Metropolis, IL uranium processing plant, and was ordered to pay a multimillion dollar fine.  No humans were convicted.  But if you thought this would have made them clean up their act, or have made even the slightest dent in their bottom line, you would be wrong.

Just two weeks ago, OSHA slapped the plant with still another fine  stemming from a release of dangerous gas from the plant. To add insult to injury, Honeywell further broke the law by barring federal investigators from inspecting the plant. 

Also about two weeks ago, Honeywell settled with environmental officials over its role in contaminating a large swath of Northern New Jersey with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium.  Along with Occidental Chemical and PPG Industries, Honeywell also agreed to accept responsibility for 42 other "orphan" sites contaminated with the pollutant. 

The Obama White House, from all indications or lack therof, has not addressed  the criminal convictions, the flaunting of the law, the pollution. But, according to Mike Elk, it has vehemently refused all comment on the union lockout in Metropolis, which just marked its first anniversary.  The national mainstream corporate media have not covered the Honeywell abuses, neither the labor aspect nor the pollution aspect.

And you might think that Obama critic, pollution victim, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would be all over this Cote Connection with the White House.  Again, you would be wrong. Honeywell contributes to the GOP coffers too, hedging its bets like any good monolithic corporate person. And let's face it, the Republicans are simply not that into the environment.  Just ask Rick Perry of Toxic Texas.  Deep in the heart of Texas is a lot like deep in the heart of Jersey, where as the old song goes "even the flies can't breathe in the skies." So what's a little more chemical crud.

But there has been plenty of happy-talk news about how phenomenally well Honeywell is doing from an investment standpoint. Wall Street cheerleader Jim Cramer of CNBC's "Mad Money" today projected a big increase in profits for the company, which with all its many parts resembles a "beautiful mosaic". (my thought is a writhing mass of slimy snakes, but what do I know?), a Forbes blog, is also waxing rhapsodic about Honeywell's skyrocketing and surprising growth and earnings. Look at the Honeywell charts, compare with the unemployment charts, and then ask yourself where on earth Cote will find the chutzpah to ask the Senate for more concessions, even as his government contracts continue pouring in during this Age of Contrived Austerity.

Besides profiting mightily from the ongoing Forever Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and parts unknown, Honeywell was recently awarded a $213 million government contract to expand the energy infrastructure at the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration outside of D.C.  The irony is literally dripping like the nuclear sludge leaching from those cheap containers in Metropolis into the ground and toward the Ohio River.

Cote Calls Shots from Presidential Podium as Obama Looks On