Monday, December 30, 2013

Out, Out, Damned Year

Stuff to make the coffee burble out of your nose on a gloomy Monday morn:
Americans named President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the world's most admired living man and woman in 2013, according to a Gallup poll released on Monday.
OMG, you declare in disbelief? Be heartened, Sardonickists. Because they only asked a thousand people out of a population of 300+ million. Because despite winning this dubious popularity contest, Barack is fully 16 percentage points less popular with a thousand people than he was a year ago. Even Hillary, who has been winning the Beloved Sweepstakes for a dozen years running, is not quite so loved as she once was.

The Prom King and Queen are in good company.  Runners-up in the Court of Popular Opinion include Sarah Palin, Oprah, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Ron Paul and Clint Eastwood.

Oh, but miracle of miracles: Pope Francis managed to make the cut, too. So all is not lost in Poll World, where you are given a preapproved list of people to admire rather than being allowed to blurt out, say, Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges or Ed Snowden or Glenn Greenwald.

If you are a New York Times columnist named Charles Blow, and your New Years resolutions include holding politicians accountable, resisting the coverage of politics as a sporting event, and becoming a voice for the voiceless, then that makes you the Worst Purple Proselytizing Hack Ever, according to The New Republic. Worse than Frank "Foodie" Bruni, even!
Because, when you are bestowed with a valuable plot of establishment journalism real estate, then you must write for those who live on valuable plots of establishment real estate. Such as David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, who make comforting the comfortable their whole raison d'etre. I get that Blow sometimes veers off into self-conscious overwrought schmaltz, and is often all too willing to give Obama a free pass, but at least he is not as smarmy as Ross Douthat or as shallow as MoDo.

So let's hear it for New Republic: celebrating the New Normal of mass immiseration by trashing the polemic of its critics.
Meanwhile, the paper of record itself persists in covering the politics of mass immiseration as a horserace rather than a humanitarian crisis. Today's headline declares that minimally raising the minimum age to a paltry ten bucks and change is a "winning strategy" for the same politicians who just cravenly voted another austerity budget into existence:
Democratic Party leaders, bruised by months of attacks on the new health care program, have found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014: an increase in the minimum wage. 
The effort to take advantage of growing populism among voters in both parties is being coordinated by officials from the White House, labor unions and liberal advocacy groups.
Cry me a river for those multimillionaire Democratic leaders covered with their boo-boos and needing to lift their own fortunes by pretending to care about poor people. They are taking advantage, for their own political gain, of a horrendous situation that they themselves were instrumental in creating.

Which brings me to Paul Krugman, who today declares that the "fiscal fever" of the Beltway deficit hawks has broken -- that Austerity Is Dead, Long Live Sanity. Uh... not so fast. My comment:
Just because the Fix the Debt crowd have been discredited doesn't mean they're still not out to get us. They're in temporary retreat, is all. A pope with a social conscience was elected, a progressive-talking NYC mayor was elected, and Elizabeth Warren finally has the power to take on the banking Mafia with the righteous indignation that they so sorely require.
Deficit fever hasn't broken. Like malaria, it rests between strikes. Our millionaire leaders certainly aren't breaking a sweat about the jobs crisis. Little do they seem to care about the shaking chill running up and down the spines of terrified ordinary people on a daily basis.
Nancy Pelosi, for example, told her colleagues to "embrace the suck" and pass another domestic austerity budget. And then both parties eagerly appropriated another $633 billion for the war budget (euphemistically called "defense.")
And while the unemployed are condemned to poverty, and nearly 50 million families with children to hunger, the welfare program known as Q.E. will continue to pump a free $75 billion a month to the banks. Jamie Dimon celebrated by sending out Christmas cards of his own family carousing and playing tennis in their palatial art museum of a home. The stock market is soaring.
Yes, the intellectual case for austerity has collapsed. But who said any of its instigators are intellectuals? They are true believers in a noxious cult of greed. And they're in dire need of some forced deprogramming therapy by the masses.
As one reader pointed out, my statement implying that Q.E. sends money to "the banks" was misleading, since the Fed is in reality buying up bonds and other financial products rather than writing checks to JP Morgan, Citi, and Goldman Sachs. As such, he said, I am only giving more credence to the ravings of the Tea Party, which claims the Fed is printing money and driving the country into inflation. 

So, I stand corrected. I should have written that the Fed is artificially propping up the bloated head of a diseased monstrosity (the financialized economy), which is comprised of Wall Street, the big banks, and corporations. Even a former official of the Fed admits that Q.E. has been nothing less than a backdoor bailout of the market.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Resolution: Resist the Lists

I don't know about you, but whenever I see a headline with the words Best Of, Worst Of, Most Shocking Moments of 2013, Best Tweets of the Year, etc., etc. I do an immediate Gump, and run Forrest run.

In this last week of the best of all possible worst years ever, we are being inundated by a veritable plague of lists. Have you noticed that Duck Dynasty seems to be on every single one of them? A cartoonish Methuselah homophobe racist is only the latest wedge issue in the culture wars that define the divide-and-conquer politics of the ruling class. The timing of Phil Robertson's First Amendment rights at the tail end of Aught-Thirteen virtually guarantees his placement in the List of Lists.

Before making my own New Years Resolution to avoid lists and rankings like the plague, I did happen to catch Think Progress's list of the Best Movies of the Year. (This is the official blog of the Center for American Progress, a front group for the White House and the Democratic Party. Though characterizing itself as a grassroots organization for the hoi polloi, it was recently forced to reveal its corporate backers, which run the gamut from too big to fail/jail banks, the military industrial complex, and Walmart. Oops.)

So, it should come as no surprise that TP's most beloved movies mesh perfectly with the policies and propaganda of the Obama administration and the self-serving interests of its corporate overlords. The reviewer, Alyssa Rosenberg, admits that she has not seen all the movies of 2013, but compiled her list anyway. These films may or may not be great... I have not seen them. It's the reasons why TP thinks they are great that are quite revealing -- and predictable. Here are how movie reviews are written within the smog of neoliberal thought:

12 Years A Slave: "A great movie about slavery in America that derives much of its greatness from focusing on how black Americans learned to accommodate themselves to the strangenesses of white privilege, rather than on how good white people rise above the unfair advantages granted them by the violence of white supremacy."

Rosenberg echoes centrist thought in her celebration of the latest entry in the Slavery Nostalgia genre: black Americans can only triumph by assimilating themselves into the white system. When movies can portray them doing this willingly, rather than having their rights bestowed upon them by white people, it is cause for celebration. So what a triumph for white people, huh?

 Personally, my favorite slavery nostalgia flic is Django Unchained, a piece of revisionist history in which the slaves triumphed by setting plantations on fire and killing their masters. Needless to say, the corporate media hated it. Probably because the cruelly corrupt house slave played by Samuel L. Jackson bears an uncanny resemblance to the current White House occupant. Plus, it uses the N word.

After Tiller: "A look at the few remaining doctors in the United States who provide late-term abortions, After Tiller is a remarkable and deeply compassionate look at what it’s like to provide a medical service that makes you a target of violence and hatred. And it’s a kind and clear-eyed look at the circumstances under which women and their partners seek these procedures, cutting through ugly rhetoric to emphasize that no one wants a late-term abortion."

Since abortion is one of the major cultural wedge issues distinguishing the two right wings of the Money Party, this film was obviously a shoo-in for TP's list.

Fruitvale Station: "Ryan Coogler’s strikingly assured debut feature makes the death of Oscar Grant a tragedy by providing a riotous, sexy, often extremely funny celebration of the last day of his life. And it’s not as if we needed even more proof that Michael B. Jordan should be an enormous star, but he filed yet another brief on his own merits in taking on what could have been a stiffly noble role, and instead is a gorgeously human one."

Unarmed black guy gets shot in extra-judicial assassination-by-cop. Another wedge issue to make white liberals feel vicariously victimized at the same time its film treatment makes them chuckle, and more prone to donate to millionaire Wall Street Democrats righteously proclaiming themselves oppressed by those bigoted Republicans in Congress.

(Another film, Dirty Wars, featuring extra-judicial assassination-by-president, is mysteriously absent from TP's best-of list -- despite the fact that it has been shortlisted as an Oscar nominee for best documentary of 2013.)

Her: "My review of Spike Jonze’s innovative romantic comedy is embargoed until next week. But his exploration of a blooming relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system, named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, liberated from her body, to great effect) is also a story about humanity as a whole getting attached to a new kind of technology. It’s funny, charming, very sad movie that pulls of something relatively rare–it’s fair and clear-eyed about all of the participants, as well as wise and moderate in its vision of the near future."

I haven't seen the movie, but since major Obama donor Scarlett Johannson plays the part of the sexy computer, this was bound to make the "progressive" list. Any movie showing us how to love our compromised-by-the-NSA operating system is a must-recommend for the Obama Spy State. If you can't love Big Brother, love Big Lover.

As an alternative, I recommend Ghost in the Machine, from Season One of The X-Files. Made in 1993, it presaged the post-9/11 surveillance state most eerily, and even villainized the NSA. There are plenty of films and books in the robot-as-love object genre, including dozens of old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits entries. The difference between these and Her is that Her (She?) is billed as a romantic comedy rather than cautionary dystopian sci-fi. So feel the neoliberal love, people!

Loves Her Gun: "I’m not sure Loves Her Gun has found distribution, which is too bad, because this chronicle of an accidental shooting foretold is a powerful brief on women, violence, and guns that makes the most of its Austin setting."

A triple-whammy of Democratic wedge issues for the price of one. The war on women. violence, and guns. Plus Austin, the one liberal bastion in the Lone Star State.

Pain and Gain: "Some of my fellow critics think Michael Bay isn’t self-aware enough to have fully pulled off this adaptation of a true story about three Miami bodybuilders who kidnapped, tortured, and extorted a local businessman for his assets. But, by God did I enjoy watching Mark Wahlberg, Dwanye Johnson, and Anthony Mackie rampage through Pain and Gain, a glorious, ridiculous exploration of the compelling power of American dumbness. 'Jesus Christ himself has blessed me with many gifts,' Johnson’s Paul reflects at one point. 'One of them is knocking people the fuck out.' Whatever you need to tell yourself."

Mocking stupid white rednecks is bread and butter for the smugly superior professional liberal veal pen. It is a cottage industry and the whole raison d'etre of MSNBC, for example. It is just another way for corporate Democrats to differentiate themselves from corporate Republicans. And what a gift this movie must be to them: stupid white rednecks stupidly attack capitalism. What delicious horror. Two phony left thumbs up, yo.

Short Term 12: "Based on director Destin Cretton’s experiences working in a group home for teenagers who’d been removed from their families, Short Term 12 stars Brie Larson and John Gallagher, Jr., giving tremendous performances as staffers at a similar facility who are terrific at their jobs because of past traumas they share with their charges. It’s a rare movie that can detonate and clear the ground on a genre–in this case, Troubled Children Saved By Dedicated Adults–that’s become a horrific, insulting cliche and then build something gorgeous and funny on the old foundations. Short Term 12 pulls that off, while also offering a resounding brief for the power of niceness."

If you can make an insulting cliché gorgeous and funny, then all is well. The "power of niceness" shall keep the Wall Street Democrats safe from the mob.

We Steal Secrets: "Alex Gibney’s documentary about Julian Assange has an unsettling structure that almost lead me to walk out of the theater when it seemed like the film wasn’t taking the sexual assault allegations against Assange seriously. But Gibney, in a moment in his career when he seems dedicated to fiercely interrogating his own assumptions and first reactions, delivers a sharp interrogation of Assange’s personality and how a transparency movement has been undermined by Assange’s sense that he deserves a deference he wouldn’t extend to anyone else."

If you thought a flack for Obama's think tank was going to praise Julian Assange, you should think again. So, thank God that this hit job of a movie did not disappoint Rosenberg. If it wasn't going to emphasize his personal weirdness issues over his exposure of war crimes, graft and corruption, then she never could have written her review. And we all would have been losers.

And last but least in the Obama Think Tank's best movies list: 

Zero Dark Thirty: "Kathryn Bigelow’s striking, gorgeously shot, volcanically acted chronicle of the search for and execution of Osama bin Laden technically opened wide early in 2013. And while the furor over it has largely faded in the excitement of a new Oscar season, it’s still one of the most important, complicating chronicles of our time, especially in a year where other cultural explorations of the War on Terror have ebbed in power and insight."

Is comment even necessary? Is Alyssa Rosenberg obsessed with the word "gorgeous?" This movie was scripted with the direct help of the CIA, and glorifies ("gorgeously shot") torture. And irony of ironies: the Obama administration is not punishing former CIA Director Leon Panetta, now exposed as the source for the filmmakers. They are going after the leakers who exposed Panetta as the leaker. That has got to be one of the most important, complicated chronicles of our time. But not one that Think Progress is ever likely to review.

Today's the day that more than a million people are being officially condemned to poverty by the two sides of the Money Party. At the very most, the Democrats are considering a measly three-month extension of benefits, as though the de facto 25 percent unemployment rate will magically correct itself when the green shoots of spring start popping up all over this exceptional land of ours.
In a column called "The Fear Economy," Paul Krugman bemoaned the political apathy and pointed out the inconvenient truth that even employed people are stuck in a rut. Because, obviously, what's bad for ordinary people is very, very good for CEOs. My New York Times comment:
Maybe the tipping point is near... when millions of us losing our unemployment benefits and millions more struggling under the yoke of wage stagnation, pension loss, and intolerable working conditions see the light, realize how badly the political system has failed us, and collectively assert our human rights.
It happened in the last great Depression when the Bonus Army camped in Washington to demand cash back for their reimbursement certificates. It happened when throngs of jobless people got wise to the propaganda that poverty is caused by laziness, stopped blaming themselves, and demanded relief from the politicians through the mass Unemployed Workers Movement.
The jobless joined the wage slaves in their sit-down strikes, endangering the bottom lines of the robber barons.
Once upon a time, the fear was transferred from the working class to the ruling class. And the New Deal was born. And ever since, the right wing and the plutocrats have been trying mightily to dismantle it.
So until enough of us can harness that soul-destroying fear and shove it right back at the miscreants who are causing this whole economic mess, nothing is going to change. We need to band together and collectively perform the ending of that other famous working class film, "9 to 5."
And then we need to go to the polls and throw the bums out who refuse to expand Social Security, restore SNAP cuts and extend unemployment insurance. And maybe convince Bernie Sanders to run for president.
The other 1100-plus reader comments were similarly outraged. It gives me hope that more and more people, even erstwhile Obamabots, are no longer limiting their ire to the Republicans. They are On to the Con. There is anger out there. And that is a healthy thing.

One of the readers responding to my comment said it sounded great until I mentioned Bernie Sanders, who apparently was among those  senators voting for the horrendous budget that rewarded the rich and the war-mongers and punished the poor even more than they've already been punished. If I had known about his vote, I probably would not have given him a plug.

Still, despite his unfortunate bout of "pragmatism," he may serve the purpose of at least verbally challenging neoliberalism in the upcoming rigged presidential horserace. For one thing, I doubt that the Establishment could ever get away with bodily removing him from presidential debates as they did with Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Foisting of the Rejoicing


It's time once again to (belatedly) dust off that old seasonal standard, Barack and Michelle Do Christmas. Talk about Deja Vu all over again. No wonder Thomas Friedman is reportedly Obama's favorite columnist. Not only do these chin-stroking dudes share the delusion that endless repetition is a virtue, they share the same audience: an exclusive set of elites who never tire of being told how virtuous they are when they temper their endless acquisitions with an occasional spurt of noblesse-oblige.

So without further ado, The Obama Christmas Carol, 2013 version:
THE PRESIDENTHello everybody, and happy holidays.
(Greetings to the upper middle class and I will avoid the C word for fear of giving generic offense.)

THE FIRST LADY: We know how busy this time of year is for everyone, so we’re not going to take much of your time. 
(Everybody: tacitly defined as those who have actual jobs and money to spend shopping and partying. Those of you too unemployed or depressed in this Long Depression to even get out of bed are not included in the Foist Couple's message.)
But we did want to take a moment to wish you all a Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.
(Michelle bravely utters the C word, as our heads become stuffed with sugar-plummy visions of ideal intact American families just like hers.)
THE PRESIDENT:  This is a season for millions of Americans to be together with family, to continue long-held holiday traditions, and to show our gratitude to those we love.  And along the way, some of us might even watch a little basketball or eat some Christmas cookies, too.
(The vision coalesces into a hard chunk of treacle -- the ideal intact Norman Rockwell families gather around the fireside, with '50s interludes of women slaving in the kitchen and fake-sheepish regular guys just like him watching televised sports.)
THE FIRST LADY: Here at the White House, over the past few weeks, we’ve had about 70,000 people from all across the country come visit us and look at our holiday decorations. 
(So much for it being the People's House and the decorations belonging to the actual people. But I bitchily quibble. For among the attractions was a 300-pound Gingerbread McMansion, complete with a waterfall to further evoke those visions of trickle-down neoliberal economics and happy families.)
This year’s theme was “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.”
And in every room of the house, we tried to tell a story about who we are as Americans and how we celebrate the holidays together.
(And just think, it was only last spring when Hubby proclaimed that careless droning is Not Who We Are! Accompanied by the never-ending soundtrack of drones, playing "We are the Murkans, the mighty mighty Murkans, everywhere we go-oh, people wanna know-oh Who We Are. So we tell them. We are the Murkans, the mighty mighty Murkans...." Special tour attraction: The Kill List Room and Barry's Dead Militant baseball card collection encased under twinkling glass. Maybe next year he can include an exhibit on the "Grit and Resilience of the American People" with a diorama featuring the Yemeni wedding party just blasted to smithereens by Not Who We Are.)
And we made certain to highlight some of the most powerful stories we know – the stories of our outstanding troops, veterans, and military families and their service and sacrifice for our country.
(Okay. You knew the Support Our Troops bromides were inevitable. Prepare to feel guilty for daring to complain about your lousy job, your lack of a lousy job, less heat, less food. Because The Troops will always have it worse than you assholes ever will.)
THE PRESIDENT:  Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays.  But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family.  They’re spending some extra time on the phone with their loved ones back home. Or they’re setting up video chats so they can watch as the presents are opened.  So today, we want all of our troops to know that you’re in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season.
(They serve so that the One Percent and the military-industrial complex and corrupt politicians can enjoy the financial blessings reaped by death, dismemberment, mayhem and destruction on a global scale. All the corporate media networks are cooperating in this propaganda, airing the video chats between news of Obama sending more weapons to Iraq and Marines to South Sudan to protect the oil cartels. And meanwhile, he is imposing chained CPI on his beloved veterans' pensions. But he is bestowing his thoughts and prayers... which do not cost his financial backers one red cent.)
And here’s the good news: For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they’ve been with their families on Christmas.  In fact, with the Iraq war over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm’s way than at any time in the last decade.
(He just gave Karzai more time to comply with his demand to keep American troops in Afghanistan for at least another decade, at a cost of billions of dollars that will not be invested here in The Homeland.)
THE FIRST LADY: And that’s something we all can be thankful for. 
And with more and more of our troops back here at home, now it’s our turn to serve – it’s our turn to step up and show our gratitude for the military families who have given us so much. 
And that’s why Jill Biden and I started our Joining Forces initiative – to rally all Americans to support our military families in ways large and small. 
And again and again, we have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve gotten as folks from across the country have found new ways to give back to these families through their schools, businesses, and houses of worship.
(Joining Forces is fully funded and run by the Military Industrial Complex via a neoliberal think tank called the Center for a New American Security. It's just another way for tax-immune corporate welfare recipients like Walmart and G.E. to salvage their misanthropic reputations. They get White House access and photo ops in exchange for vaguely promising to create a few jobs for veterans and service members' families. The administration stresses voluntary private help for vets instead of harassing the Veterans Administration to do its own job and deal with the massive backlog of applications for earned benefits
And thus, say the Obamas to all you civilians out there: you need to feel some shame during this Time of Joy for daring to complain about your own low-paid jobs, your own lack of low-paid jobs, your foreclosures, your evictions, the government vacuuming up your communications, your food stamp cuts. Because The Troops are spilling their blood and losing their limbs to Keep You Safe.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s the same spirit of giving that connects all of us during the holidays.  So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors.  For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us – to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper.  And for all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens.
(Notice how Obama is not addressing those "folks" who actually are being forced to eat in Soup Kitchens this holiday season. Obama never addresses poor people directly. They remain "The Other," whom the better off must notice and help from time to time, on a purely voluntary basis. Read His Lips: No New Taxes. But "families like his" who do engage in occasional food bank photo-ops or clean out their overstuffed walk-in closets for Goodwill can be an example and inspiration to others in their class.)
THE FIRST LADY: So as we look to the New Year, let’s pledge ourselves to living out those values by reaching out and lifting up those in our communities who could use a hand up. 
(A neoliberal lift up, a hand up, but heaven forbid the dreaded hand out. Hand-ups include public-private partnerships to enrich corporations, unpaid internships to enrich corporations, tech training to enrich corporations, closing public schools to make way for charters, to enrich corporations. Hand outs would include enhanced Social Security benefits, pension protections, a living wage/guaranteed income, food stamp increases, free or nearly free college or student loan forgiveness, Medicare for All, renewal of federal unemployment benefits. Hand-ups are granted by the Free Market, which ensures all the wealth will continue to concentrate at the very top. Hand-outs -- a government jobs program and actual cash in people's pockets -- would serve stimulate the economy, level the playing field, and deprive the plutocrats of the joy of controlling both what they deign to give and the recipients of their "largesse.")
THE PRESIDENT:  So Merry Christmas, everyone.  And from the two of us, as well as Malia, Sasha, Grandma, Bo…
THE FIRST LADY: And Sunny, the newest Obama.
(It's always Sunny in D.C., aka Wall Street-on-the-Potomac. It's always darkest in the hinterland, right before it gets completely black.)
THE PRESIDENT:  We wish you all a blessed and safe holiday season. 
(But not a peaceful holiday season, apparently. It seems that Obama broke with Christmas tradition and actually launched a drone attack in Pakistan on Christmas Day itself! Maybe he felt upstaged by the Pope's plea for peace, which got a ton more positive press.)
THE FIRST LADY: Happy holidays everybody, and God bless. 
(It could have been worse. At least she skipped the usual America after the God Bless part. Then again, she might have said God Bless Us, and the videographer simply indulged in a bit of choppy creative editing.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Okay, out with the snark of creepy plastic peeping elves and in with the true meaning of Christmas: carols with just the right touch of snark, self-deprecation, levity and irony. First, the Roches do the Brooklyn honors.  Or maybe it's De Bronx. Whatevah.

And what would the Decade of Extreme Income Inequality be without indulging in a little feudalism nostalgia? Let's all go a-Wassailing from here to Twelfth Night and beyond, to demand our share of the wealth. We definitely aren't going to wait around for any of that phony Trickle Down. Read these lyrics and see if they don't sarcastically but politely demand a living wage, food stamp and unemployment insurance restoration and universal health care:
We are not daily beggars That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children, Whom you have seen before.
We have got a little purse Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money To line it well within.
Bring us out a table And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese, And some of your Christmas loaf.
Good master and good mistress, While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children Who are wandering in the mire.
You can listen to a nice version here, minus the threatening tone I would sing it in if I could sing. The thought of wandering in the muck with a belly full of discarded rancid cheese is starting to make me irate, truth be told.
So let's move on. I think my favorite all-time tune has got to be this anti-war classic by John McCutcheon: Christmas in the Trenches.
Here's wishing all of you peace and good health no matter how you celebrate, what you celebrate, or even if you celebrate.

Have Yourself a Creepy Little Christmas

It's bad enough that there's a Grinch who steals all your Christmas presents when you're not looking.  But how about a character who steals your very soul because he is constantly looking?

Welcome to Christmas in the United Stasi. With an unacceptable 40 percent of us still rebelling against  Big Brother, the murketers of the Surveillance State realize that if they're to gain total control, they have to get to us early in our lives, when our psyches are still malleable. I just hadn't realized the depth of the indoctrination until I came across this blurb in my local rag:

It’s December, and that means the Elf on the Shelf is in children’s homes, watching their behavior and reporting back to Santa.
You never know where he’ll pop up, or what type of props will surround him.
Send us photos of your most creative Elf on a Shelf (or Mensch on a Bench) scenes. Recordonline readers will vote for their favorites; the winner will get a $50 Amazon gift card.
I realized, to my chagrin, that I've been so busy lambasting the murketing of Obama's health insurance product I have been completely out of the Elf on the Shelf loop. A whole new corporate post 9/11 kiddie spy mythology has grown up around me without my even noticing! I'd even missed a TV holiday infomercial (animation outsourced to India) on the ubiquitous little creature. But my local rag linked me the official page, and thus was I enlightened about the Legend (TM).
The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day's adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning.
There are two simple rules that every child knows when it comes to having an elf. First, an elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if an elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, an elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! An elf's job is to watch and listen.
Okay, so now I get why the goons at the NSA are so riled about being exposed by Ed Snowden. They are fragile creatures whose very survival is dependent on the fomentation of fear. If you dare even touch them, they will lose their magical powers. Once they're exposed, their billions of dollars of funding might just go Poof! through one little act of Congress.

But back to Elf on the Shelf. Just like Murketer-in-Chief Barack Obama, the elf flacks assure consumers that Shelfie's spying on them will be carefully balanced against their quaint need for privacy. This trollish little pathogen even has a special Privacy Statement on his webpage! Although he admits he will steal your personal information and your children's personal information, share it with third parties, even track your movements, he will keep the data safe (presumably in an ultra-secret multibillion-dollar storage facility at the North Pole.)

Much to my daughter Kat's disappointment, we just missed the deadline for our local Elf on the Shelf contest. But she has her entry for next year all ready:

Clapper on the Crapper

Reach out and touch him.... I triple-dog dare you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Big Chill

Why, asks Lewis Lapham, are there no 21st century Mark Twains around to lambast the malefactors of great wealth and the corrupt politicians enabling them, making us collapse with laughter as we revel in the skewering?

Part of the reason is that independent newspapers, for which Twain once wrote, have been subsumed by six media conglomerates controlling 90% of everything we see, hear and read. And so, Lapham observes,
We have today a second Gilded Age more magnificent than the first, but our contemporary brigade of satirists doesn’t play with fire. The marketing directors who produce the commodity of humor for prime-time television aim to amuse the sheep, not shoot the elephants in the room. They prepare the sarcasm-lite in the form of freeze-dried sound bites meant to be dropped into boiling water at Gridiron dinners, Academy Award ceremonies, and Saturday Night Live. “There is a hell of a distance,” said Dorothy Parker, “between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it.” George Bernard Shaw seconded the motion: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”
And the other elephants in the room are, of course, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and all the other incestuous initialized members of the surveillance state family. There are no Twains, because  writers report feeling a chill pervasive enough to impede the free flow of their thoughts. It's hard enough to be truthful, let alone bitingly humorous, with the constant specter of Big Brother peering over your shoulder.

The American Surveillance State is driving writers to self-censor.

 Even though Barack Obama, and the crypto-fascist spymasters that he only pretends are his minions, have on the surface spared the First Amendment from their wholesale shredding of the Bill of Rights, the suppression of free speech is well underway through the process of intimidation. So while the president grinned his wolfish grin, cracked his lame jokes, and strove mightily at his press con yesterday to assure us that American surveillance is benign,  warm and cozy, we are neither reassured nor amused. And that especially goes for writers.

The PEN American Center for human rights and literary expression put it this way:
We know—historically, from writers and intellectuals in the Soviet Bloc, and contemporaneously from writers, thinkers, and artists in China, Iran, and elsewhere—that aggressive surveillance regimes limit discourse and distort the flow of information and ideas. But what about the new democratic surveillance states?
The question of the harms caused by widespread surveillance in democracies, like the surveillance being conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency, is underexplored. In October 2013, PEN partnered with independent researchers at the FDR Group to conduct a survey of over 520 American writers to better understand the specific ways in which awareness of far-reaching surveillance programs influences writers’ thinking, research, and writing.
While only 44% (and that figure is slowly creeping up with every new Edward Snowden "leak") of the general public disapproves of the NSA sweeping up phone records and emails, fully two-thirds of the writers surveyed think the government is overreaching. More than one in four of them is now avoiding social media for fear of being tracked by the government. One in four is avoiding discussing certain topics in their emails and phone conversations. Most automatically assume that Big Brother is watching everything they say or write. Among the topics they're avoiding, both in their writing and their Internet searches, are mass incarceration, Middle Eastern affairs, drug policies, the Occupy movement, and pornography. The PEN report adds,
Part of what makes self-censorship so troubling is the impossibility of knowing precisely what is lost to society because of it. We will never know what books or articles may have been written that would have shaped the world’s thinking on a particular topic if they are not written because potential authors are afraid that their work would invite retribution. We do know that our studies of the private papers of generations of past luminaries have yielded valuable information that aids not only our understanding of their work and lives, but also our own thinking on contemporary problems. As one writer noted, “As a professor of literature, I lament that contemporary writers’ papers (hard copy and electronic) will potentially be less useful to future scholars because of self-censorship in the face of these governmental surveillance programs.” If today’s writers, many of whom do much of their work on computers and online, hesitate to put their thoughts in writing because of the fear of surveillance, we will lose these valuable wells of information, and future generations of scholars will find the sources available to them much impoverished due to concerns about surveillance.
One of the best American writers working today is not cowed. Dave Eggers, whose most recent novel ("The Circle")  chronicles the death of privacy via the Silicon Valley data-vacuuming industry, writes that Democrats, "caught in a web of cognitive dissonance"  are all too willing to give Barack Obama a free pass. For, despite his dwindling popularity, the personality cult persists -- as evidenced this week by a cringe-worthy op-ed in the New York Times celebrating Obama's "cool" demeanor, singing abilities and talent at strutting his bod.

A writer's job, Eggers counters, is to look for trouble. That goes hand in hand with my own personal favorite journalistic motto: afflict the comfortable. But President Obama, judging from his latest act of performance art depravity before the White House press corps yesterday, is not discomfited nearly enough yet. He ingratiates himself with the access-seeking media, who prefaced almost every softball question with "Merry Christmas, Mr. President!" and laughed appreciatively when he said his New Years resolution was to be nicer to them. He'll be taking recommendations to stop the NSA dragnet on vacation with him for some leisurely beach reading. So relax.

And thus does the latest Times editorial proclaim itself merely "disappointed" in the president. If anybody knows how to self-censor, it's the Gray Lady.

We need outrage. We need resistance. And yes, we need to laugh at them. Because when you take away their toys, their security details, their trappings of wealth, they are merely thin-skinned human beings in need of a good swift kick in the ass. Followed by a rapid repeal of the Patriot Act and a derailment of their money train.

On that note, have a happy Solstice, everybody! (It's always darkest right before the Enlightenment.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Big Money Cabal of Bench-Slappers

Vindication is sweet today for fans of the Fourth Amendment. But let's be realistic. With billions and billions, even trillions, of dollars at stake, the NSA and the private contractors enriched by the fascistic Deep State will not be going gently into that good night.

I imagine that the Obama administration is busily judge-shopping even as we speak, and will find some compliant fellow or lady to knock down the somewhat passive-aggressive (delayed, pending Obama judge-shopping)  ruling yesterday against the mass collection of phone records of United States persons.

Because, let's  remember what happened when another federal judge issued her own preliminary injunction last year which knocked down the supreme right of Temp Emp Obama to detain anyone, anywhere without benefit of charge or trial.

He went judge-shopping. And so, the National Defense Authorization Act still stands as a monument to totalitarianism. Both right wings of the Money Party are ready and willing to renew it once again during this joyous holiday season when nobody is paying much attention. Obama will again robo-sign it into law from the safe distance of his Hawaii vacation abode.

Let's remember when still another judge ruled against the illegal stop and frisk campaign of departing NYC billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He went judge-shopping. Not only was her ruling overturned, but Judge Shira Sheindlin was kicked off the whole case by a three-judge state appellate panel.

And then there was the case of Judge Jed Rakoff, who threw out a cozy mortgage fraud settlement between Citigroup and the SEC, and demanded that banksters be held criminally accountable. And predictably, Rakoff soon joined the ranks of the bench-slapped. But sweet vindication does abide, because he just penned a scathing indictment of the Obama administration's coziness with the malefactors of great wealth.  

We still have the First Amendment. So far.

I'm sure there are plenty of other similar cases out there in the great marketplace known as the American Judicial System. A long time ago, I got a parking ticket and decided to fight it in court because the return envelope requesting my ten bucks (I told you it was a long time ago!) gave no instructions about how to fight it in court. Not only did the late great Newburgh City Judge Albert S. MacDowell throw out my ticket, he declared the whole municipal parking ticket system unconstitutional because it denied due process. And guess what? A couple of years later, he was removed from the bench on grounds of mental instability and insulting lawyers.

So the handwriting is probably on the wall for Richard J. Leon, the judge who slapped down the NSA and the president in public yesterday. The whisper campaign is already beginning. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wrote a fun personality profile, characterizing him as a feisty old coot representing a "thorn in the side" of the government:
With his use of exclamation points (“How utterly disappointing!” he once wrote, excoriating the Food and Drug Administration) and cultural references (he mentioned the Beatles and Ringo Starr in a footnote in Monday’s ruling), Judge Leon does not seem bound by judicial sobriety.
And how about his metaphors, "so devastating to the government?" Uh-oh. The handwriting's not only on the wall, it's permanently engraved. The inevitable bench-slap is coming. If not from the Supreme Court, then from some Supremely Secret Court which has probably already declared the Fourth Amendment itself unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Temp Emp Obama is meeting with telecom and Internet CEOs today. Marcy Wheeler thinks The One will try mightily to divide, conquer, and co-opt them into compliance for the Greater Good of the Big Money Deep State. Sounds about right to me.

David Brooks looked in the mirror and actually wrote a pretty amusing takedown of that sleazy group of marketing pros calling themselves "Thought Leaders." My comment:
I have to admit that this column about thought leaders initially gave me brain freeze. Then I realized my mind had gone blank because the first time I'd heard this Orwellian term, it was in reference to Lloyd Blankfein.
This past fall, there was a slight uproar when NBC dubbed Blankfein a Thought Leader for its Education Nation forum. Actual educators were incensed that the CEO of a too big to fail or jail bank would have anything constructive at all to say about educating kids.
Because, besides being coated with Teflon, Blankfein's other claim to fame had been acting as a spokesman for the billionaire deficit hawk cult called Fix the Debt. That is the group dedicated to the creative destruction of the New Deal. He was going on TV telling us we'd better lower our expectations about collecting Social Security and start tightening our belts for his future. He was a big cheerleader for the Sequester, which kicked 57,000 kids out of Head Start.
Blankfein also spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative as a Thought Leader, later paying Hillary Clinton several hundred thousand dollars for her own thoughtful and leaderly assurances that their fears of a populist uprising were merely bad thoughts in their thoughtful little heads.
Oh, and speaking of Orwell -- the term "thought leader" was invented by PR guru Joel Kurtzman when he worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. That outfit, you may remember, is the NSA contractor that once employed a fine and thoughtful patriot named Edward Snowden.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Murder Ruins Christmas for One Percenters

 A guy gets shot to death at an upscale mall, and the ensuing investigation is interfering with conspicuous consumption at the only emporium in Jersey that caters to the obscenely wealthy. Oh the humanity.

This was the actual headline in today's New York Times:

Fatal Carjacking Makes Christmas Shopping at US Mall a Nightmare 
Police on Monday were seeking an armed pair of suspected carjackers who a day earlier shot to death a man Christmas shopping with his wife at a high-end New Jersey mall and then fled in the couple's luxury SUV, prosecutors said.  
Never mind a lifetime of nightmares for the young widow who had to witness the carnage. But the article goes on to explain that murder in their midst presents a real dilemma for shoppers, because the only other Giorgio Armani and Cartier outlets are an unseemly 40 miles distant, in New York City. That yellow police tape is just too, too tacky. What a bore. And how about the Christmas retail stats, which would have been artificially pumped up via purchases by the One Percent and used as a propaganda tool by the corporate media to inform the rest of us slurping our Yule Gruel that the economy is just booming right along and this was the best Season evah?


Sorry about the light posting the past few days.... been battling a head cold, which has put a damper on the enraged output.

I did manage to post a comment last night to Paul Krugman's column on Inequality, in which he asks (purely as a rhetorical exercise) if there is anything we can do about it. Well.....

Respondents in the Very Wealthy Survey report enjoying a lot of private face time with the politicians, the better to whisper sweet deficit-hawk nothings in their ears.
Until we get the money out of politics, the grotesque inequality will only get worse. The Forbes 400, with more wealth than the bottom half of us combined, are our de facto masters. The CEOs of the Business Roundtable have an average of $14.6 million in their retirement accounts, enough to pay out $86,043 a month. And then there's David Cote of the Simpson-Bowles Catfood Commission, who holds a cool $134.5 million in his Honeywell account. That's $795,134 a month. Yet it seems he's on TV all the time, begrudging retirees their own meager $1200 Social Security checks.
So how do we break this pathological cycle of money begetting power begetting more money begetting more power? Term limits. And Citizens United could be overturned if we had rotating Supremes.
Tax the rich. Tax their capital gains, their carried interest, their high speed Wall Street trades, their offshore stashes. Scrap the cap on FICA contributions.
People are getting more enraged by the day, so the elites are eagerly making income inequality all the rage. By giving speeches. By passive-aggressively "studying the issue," pretending to be confused at how this ghastly turn of events could ever have come to pass in the Feudal States of America.
Oh, and by passing another budget that further enriches the wealthy on the backs of the poor.

Face Time Sweepstakes: David Cote and What's His Name Share Intimate Moment

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Shocked, Shocked, I Tell You

As the outrages pile up, so does the outrage fatigue. So I'll be brief:

Rich people get away with it.  When plutocrats misbehave, they get special meetings with the attorney general and set the terms for their own deferred prosecution agreements. When garden variety rich people and spoiled brats misbehave they either go to celebrity rehab, or get off on a novel defense called Affluenza.

So here's an idea for all you poor slobs out there. Next time you get arrested for robbing a bank because your unemployment and food stamps got cut off, try pleading not guilty on grounds of Indigentsion.

The Affordable Care Act is an oxymoron. The worst lie of 2013 was not, as Politifact proclaimed, "If you like your insurance, you can keep it." The worst lie is Obama's continuing insinuation that going bankrupt while sick will be a thing of the past once you get your magical O-Care card. The website glitches are nothing compared to the eruption of Sticker Shock Mayhem coming down the pike. Who knows -- National Outrage Fatigue Syndrome might even have a chance of being cured because of the ACA.


The Obama Selfie to end all Selfies: out of pure sleazy political self-interest, the president delayed a whole bunch of regulations designed to protect the health and well-being of the American people.  Anonymous administration sources are spilling their guts to the Washington Post about a creepy "Mother May I" procedure that weighed the right of citizens to drink clean water and breathe unpolluted air against Obama's re-election chances. I imagine that the president will now order his "Insider Threat" program ratcheted up into high gear to catch out those disloyal leakers.

Big Brother sucks at navel-gazing: the NSA has no idea
what Edward Snowden took because they forgot to spy on themselves.

Friday, December 13, 2013

On the Good Ship Lollipop

The Democrats are taking their We Suck Less 2012 campaign slogan to the next level:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Democratic House members at a meeting Thursday morning to “embrace the suck” and encouraged enough members to back the budget deal on the floor to allow passage, according to an attendee of the meeting. 
“We need to get this off the table so we can go forward,” Pelosi told her members, according to someone inside the closed meeting of the caucus.
Pelosi pushed for including in the budget deal an extension of the unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month. While she expressed a continued unhappiness that there will be no vote on those benefits before the House heads home Friday, she said that it wasn’t worth holding up the deal.
Pelosi (net worth $35.5 million) is at least honest in admitting that more than a million chronically jobless people getting thrown to the curb to be ground into mulch like discarded Christmas trees are not worth holding up a deal that restores Pentagon funding and continues austerity for all but the obscene rich. Not worth letting poor kids back into Head Start. Not worth protecting veterans' benefits.

Although she is, on the surface, loyal to Barack Obama's Bush war crime-enabling mantra of Look Forward, and MSNBC's corporate slogan of Lean Forward/don't question authority, and Obama Jobs Council tax-evading billionaire feminist Sheryl Sandberg's cloying Lean In, what Pelosi essentially just announced is that from here on out, the Dems will be Bending Over.

Embracing The Suck is also another way of saying if the vampire elites are determined to bite us, we should simply proffer our throats and get it over with. People who need suckers are the luckiest suckers in the world. Nancy neglected to mention that if you eat devils food cake you'll awake with with a tummy ache. Ooh, ooh.

So here's an idea. You know the guy who's getting all the bad press for his fake sign language "gibberish" during the Nelson Mandela death rally? Give him a job right here in America. Put him next to all the speechifying politicians, turn down the sound, and let him rip. His interpretations are guaranteed to be perfectly accurate. Because flailing and posturing is all they've got.

Naturally, the corporate media are falling all over themselves to praise the Stars of the Deal: Patty Murray and Paul Ryan and their improbable bipartisan romance. Gail Collins even thinks that the rapprochement between the Sadism Wing and the Masochism Wing of the Money Party represents a victory for female politicians. Read her column. It's a masterpiece of insider-y identity politics, perhaps unintentionally revealing how these jokers are as thick as thieves, merely pretending to hate each other's guts when they're in front of the cameras, flailing and posturing and appealing for money money money.  My comment: 
This column touched upon the main problem in the insular world of Washington: bipartisanship and camaraderie amongst politicians trump the common good of this country. 
Nita Lowey and Paul Ryan are bosom buds? He calls her Mom and she calls him Naughty Boy? That has got to be the worst dollop of Oedipal depravity I've heard all day. 
But what's even sicker than these "frenemies" regaling each other with mutual high-fives, (and worse) when they overcome their phony gridlock for a minute, is who really pays for these bipartisan deals from hell. It's the unemployed. It's the poor. It's federal workers already suffering under a wage freeze being forced to contribute more of their wages to the pension plans that may or may not be there when they retire. It's Medicare providers' reimbursements being cut (translated into higher bills for health care "consumers.") It's veterans whose own benefits will be cut under chained CPI. It's airline travelers slapped with a surcharge and effectively having to foot the bill for being groped by the TSA. 
Who doesn't pay? Rich people and the eternal war machine. 
It's pretty sad that Patty Murray is being praised for being the patient adult in the room who lets the spoiled brats blather their way to exhaustion and still get most of what they want. I nominate Elizabeth Warren to take her place. Paul Ryan would be more than pooped when she got done with him. He'd be writhing on the floor, begging for mercy.
Charles Blow, meanwhile, again spoke up for the poor and blasted Republican callousness while pretty much giving the Suck-Lovers a pass. My response:
The GOP myth that people falling on hard times become trapped in a "culture of dependency" is as old as the bigoted hills from whence it sprang. From Reagan's welfare queen, to Paul Ryan's hammock for deadbeats, to David Brooks's latest column insinuating that jobless people lack a moral compass, the song remains the same.
What's really scary is the sangfroid with which some Democrats (including the president) greeted this latest bipartisan proposal that punishes the poor and rewards the rich. They see the partial and merely temporary reversal of the Sequester as "a step in the right direction." Of course, most Pentagon cuts have been restored, to be offset by reduced benefits to veterans, increased pension contributions from federal workers already suffering under an effective wage freeze, cuts to Medicare providers, and a surcharge on airline travelers who must now pay for the privilege of being groped by the TSA.
The rich, meanwhile, pay nothing. So much for the battle against extreme wealth inequality.
The nauseating self-congratulations by both corporate parties for their assault on struggling people is just the latest proof that these politicians live a world divorced from reality. They exist to serve somebody, all right, but that somebody is definitely not us. If any one of them is demanding the restoration of food stamp cuts and low income heating assistance rather than trying to find the compromise between a machete and a scalpel, I haven't heard about it.