Monday, January 6, 2014

From the Laboratories of the Plutocracy

"Nothing Exceeds Like Excess"

On the off-chance that some of you think that the Democrats are really, really sincere this time about helping poor jobless people, and that Barack Obama really, really means it when he says he will make income inequality the defining issue of his second term, permit me to gently burst your balloon.

Just because Obama has stopped vocally espousing cutting the safety net as part of his Grand Bargain of deficit reduction with his GOP frenemies doesn't mean that his deeply ingrained desire for austerity for the masses isn't still merrily simmering on the back burner of his mind.

 Need proof? Just read the latest stenography from his favorite multimillionaire muse and golfing buddy, Thomas Friedman. His Sunday column is simply a laundry list of the pro-business centrist policies beloved of the New Democrats and Obama's Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission. To wit:

 We have to raise the retirement and Medicare eligibility ages, so the greedy geezers will stop stealing from the young'uns! We have to reduce the corporate tax rate (as if corporate taxes were real), getting rid of pesky regulations that impede innovation! We have to frack, frack and frack some more! We have to get on with privatization of education, because:
In some cities, teachers’ unions really are holding up education reform. But we need to stop blaming teachers alone. We also have a parent problem: parents who do not take an interest in their children’s schooling or set high standards. And we have a student problem: students who do not understand the connection between their skills and their life opportunities and are unwilling to work to today’s global standards. Reform requires a hybrid of both teacher reform and a sustained — not just one speech — national campaign to challenge parents and create a culture of respect and excitement for learning.
If only the Republicans were more reasonable, Friedman whines,
 I’m certain that a second-term Obama, who is much more center-left than the ridiculous G.O.P. caricatures, would meet them in the middle. Absent that, we’re going to drift, unable to address effectively any of our biggest challenges or opportunities.
As it is, poor beleaguered Obama is being forced to join the Democratic Orchestra's income inequality theme of Campaign 2014. And that leaves Thomas Friedman to toot out the cadenza in the Trumpet Austerity Concerto in Plutocrat-Major, Opus (Forbes) 400. It blares out dissonantly in this feel-good era of wedge-issue populism, but so what? It's out there, hovering malignantly in the poisoned acoustic atmosphere.

How, you may ask, does Thomas Friedman's Sunday screed tie in to President Obama's own shadow agenda? Dylan Byers of Politico wrote a revealing piece last fall about the macho White House bull sessions of which Friedman is a regular and valued participant:
The sessions, which have become more frequent in Obama’s second term — he held at least three in October — provide a stark contrast to the combative, sometimes cantankerous relationship between the White House and the press corps. They also serve as an alternate means of shaping the debate in Washington: a private back-channel of genuine sentiment that seeps into the echo-chamber, while Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, delivers largely scripted responses in the public briefings. Obama holds the occasional off-the-record meeting with top White House correspondents, but they are few and far between — a fact that rankles some members of the press corps.
The goal in these get-togethers, participants said, is two-fold: First, the president wants to convince the columnists that he’s right — about the debt ceiling, about health care, about Syria — and that his opponents are wrong.
“The president is thoroughly convinced that the course he has set out is correct, and that his opponents are either wrong-headed or crazy or, in the case of [House Speaker John] Boehner, insufficiently courageous,” said a journalist who has attended off-the-record meetings. “By getting together a group of intelligent people who are going to be writing about him or talking about him, he thinks he can show them how obviously everything he is doing makes sense.”
The second goal is more tactical: By meeting privately with the people who shape national opinion, the president ensures that his points of view will be represented in the media — even if those points of view aren’t directly attributable to him. 
He sees columnists as portals,” another journalist who has attended meetings said. “It works — I feel it work with me. It’s almost impossible to spend hours face-to-face with the president, unfiltered, then write a column or go on television without taking his point of view into account.”
It's impossible to read Friedman (or David Brooks, or David Ignatius, or the whole gamut of centrist Beltway elites)  without also hearing the dulcet tones of Barack Obama in the background. And that is absolutely chilling. It's how democracy is subsumed by big money interests, and how public consent is manufactured.

Meanwhile, my published comment to Friedman's column, which had garnered the most reader recommendations, has been removed by the New York Times. I guess they thought I was being too mean to very serious important people. Here's what I wrote:
Just when we thought the zombies were finally taking their long-overdue winter nap, we are assaulted with another press release from the Fix the Debt cult of tax-phobic parasitical billionaires. The words "Alan Simpson" in the first sentence is our first warning to run for the hills. Simpson will not rest until an entire nation of impoverished retirees has been reduced to subsisting on cat food. He once derisively claimed (plagiarizing from Mencken) that Social Security is a "milk cow with 300 million tits." I guess he thinks the whole world is out to suck him and his rich friends dry. What a load of bull!
Paul Krugman just wrote a column celebrating the long-overdue debunking of deficit reduction as economic policy. At the time, I commented that the austerians were merely in temporary retreat, strategizing their next move.
Like malaria, deficit fever strikes when you least expect it. This time, the vector is another droning Friedman column, replete with all the usual neoliberal buzzwords (long-term challenges, innovation, heavy fiscal burden on our children) in a feeble attempt to disguise the true meaning: the rich shall get richer and the poor shall be damned.
We don't have a long-term deficit problem. We have a long-term greed problem.
Nice try, Mr. Friedman, at unleashing the pathogens from the test tubes of the plutocracy. But you should be aware that more and more of us are developing a healthy immunity to what you're trying to spread.
Come to think of it, it's pretty amazing that my little rant survived for 36 hours before being relegated to the ether. Was it because of the tits part, the Friedman as a mosquito part, or the Friedman as Dr. Moreau part?  But anyway, it was nice to see that Dean Baker took note, more politely than I did, that Friedman's readers told him he was full of crap.

As of this posting, my other comment on the equally annoying Ross Douthat column still survives in the digital domain of the Gray Lady. His particular brand of bunk comes from the far right side of the Right Wing Money Party. The big difference between him and Friedman is that he gets his anti-equality plutocratic talking points direct from Koch-funded stink tanks instead of through White House back-channels. So I says to Ross:
Here's just one example of how Douthat's beloved rich people are being squeezed:
As of January 2, the 900 wealthiest Americans became officially exempt from paying any more Social Security taxes for the rest of the year. That is because they earned the cap of $117,000 in only two days. If the billionaires of the Fix the Debt brigade of prosperity for them, austerity for everybody else, were truly interested in the long-term solvency of what they love to call "entitlements," they'd join with progressives and call for scrapping the cap entirely, expanding the program, and protecting the trust fund for Ross's beloved unborn children far, far, far into the future.
But Douthat and his conservative media cohort are too busy wasting their time, feverishly concern-trolling the poor now that their plutocratic claptrap is being called out for the fraud it is by the likes of DeBlasio, Elizabeth Warren and the Pope.
And we'd be remiss if we didn't also call out the studies referenced in his Think Tank Links. The Manhattan Institute is funded by the Koch Brothers, the Scaife Foundation, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and several too-big-to fail/jail banks. The Heritage Foundation does not disclose its donors. It recently gained notoriety with the disclosure that one of its experts (Jason Richwine) had previously and mendaciously claimed that Blacks and Hispanics have lower IQs than whites.
So, Ross, when you use such suspect sources as backup, your entire column becomes instantly tainted.


Pearl said...

Subject: The effect of our dysfunctional system on young people's lives

> The Great Divide: Young and Isolated

Richard Ohio said...

KAREN-Just when I think the internet is the end of responsible journalism because anyone with a keyboard can say anything they want, you come along and restore my hope that the net can elevate journalism beyond the corporate cronyism we've always known, but especially since the fairness doctrine was repaealed and the dumbing down of the US cranked it up to full steam.

Will said...


Seeing you slice and dice Friedman and Douchehat in their own comment sections is even better than digging into a slightly melted pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. One tiny piece of advice on the "tits" thing, though: I would've gone with something a little classier, like "fun bags." :)

P.S. It's another Chris Hedges Monday. Turns out we're still pretty much doomed. Oh well.

Cirze said...

I'm quoting you at my blog.

Thanks for all you do. You're a gem.

And not in the rough.

James F Traynor said...

Damn, Karen, you're doing a hell of a job with those comments. Wonderful. I wonder if they're increasing the readership of this blog. I hope so.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Why would the Old Gray Lady disappear the comment you wrote upon reading Friedman? I doubt that it had anything to do with your choice of words regarding the numerous pneumatic structures of Simpson’s sow.

You were disappeared, Karen, because you made Friedman cry. Friedman, as well as somebody really high up at the Times, read, understood, and was deeply touched by your comment.

“There she goes again: totally eclipsing our high-paid editorialist-collaborator propagandist.”

Bravo! Clearly, you got through. You hit a nerve.

In this instance, the disappearance of your fine comment, it’s takedown and re-routing down the memory hole, is a special achievement. Chisel another notch in your writing pen.

Zee said...


I echo Jay's regret--embroidered with applause--that you, a regular, "NYT Reader Picks" commenter should be consigned to Orwell's "memory hole."

How transparent, how pathetic, and, to your regular readers, how pointless, thanks to the greater memory of the Internet!

annenigma said...

I'm sorry to change the topic, but I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up to check out this piece in the NYT about the burglers who broke into the FBI office in 1971 who have remained secret until now. Be sure to watch the video as well.

Interestingly, RT News just last night reported that the FBI has officially changed their mission from law enforcement to national security. I suppose that means that they can hide everything they do and all the evidence they collect under National Security/State Secrets Privilege and they won't have to be bothered taking cases to court anymore. They can just go back to destroying people and movements based on secret files.

Pearl said...

Karen: the number of comments to Friedman's offering that I was able to
cover in an antibiotic haze told him off pretty well - you can take credit
for showing these loyal readers the way to go. And I am sure even in the 36 hours they had a chance to read your comment, they learned enough to
continue the march. When I have a chance I plan to write a letter to the Editor about this and ask who made the decision to throw you under the bus - if the NYTimes they
are in trouble but I suspect it was Friedman himself. What with some
livewires on the Editorial Board now they should hear from us about
censorship in their paper and suggest they rethink allowing columnists of
Friedman's low standards to publish since he is then representing the
NYTimes to the world.

I remember years ago in Israel during a scandal of one of the leaders the
newspapers were accused of censoring information to the public. The
Jerusalem Post had an angry front page article the next day denouncing such accusations which was hard to read because so many sentences and words had been blacked out.

James F Traynor said...


Surprise, surprise! Let me tell you a little story. It was a long time ago and I'm a little hazy on the details, but here it is.

Two FBI agents were arrested by the NYPD while they waited late Sunday night in the dark apartment of a married couple, teachers and members of the Socialist Workers Party, away for the weekend somewhere on L.I.. The agents were carrying a loaded .22calibre handgun.

When asked about the interesting choice of weapon they said it was for possible protection against a possible dog. They were arrested and the case dragged through the legal system for years ending with a presidential pardon.

My take? They were very possible hit men - more possible than the possible dog. And every streetwise girl and guy in the city suspected it, as did the cops.

Kat said...

Wow, your comment disappeared. Has that ever happened before? Why this one?
James-- when did that FBI Cointel operation take place?

This item came across the newsfeed that comes with my email. The original story was in the AP, I had to check Politico, which I never read, for more details.

Think they'll be touting this in the Times? I'm sure some will see this as evidence of Bloomberg's progressivism-- not considering that he expects such a gift to pay off.

Zee said...

On the general topic of massive government intrusions into privacy,

"A tactic used by the federal government to gather information for anti-drunken and drugged driving programs is coming under criticism in cities around the country, and some local police agencies say they will no longer take part.

The tactic involves a subcontractor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that uses off-duty but uniformed police at voluntary roadside checkpoints where motorists are asked on their behavior behind the wheel. In some cases, workers at the checkpoints collect blood and saliva samples, in addition to breath samples. NHTSA has said previously that the surveys do not collect any DNA. Drivers are not charged at the checkpoints.

In an era of rampant distrust of the federal government and in the wake of the Obama administration's National Security Agency surveillance scandal in which the agency has collected telephone calling records from millions of unsuspecting Americans, the checkpoints have come under intense criticism in several cities this year."

'Five years ago it would have been a different story,' says St. Charles County, Mo., Sheriff Tom Neer, who recently authorized deputies to participate in a checkpoint in his St. Louis suburb and saw a public backlash. 'There're just such strong anti-government feelings among people. Under the circumstances, I would not allow them to do it again. It's just because of the perception.'"

Perhaps the sheeple really are slowly rousing from their slumber.

James F Traynor said...


It was in the '70s and the agents who ordered this among many other break-ins were pardoned by Reagan. In a cursory search I didn't find any more information on this particular break-in.

James F Traynor said...


The Socialist Workers Party was targeted, among others, from 1961 to 1971.

annenigma said...


The TSA had been doing checkpoints too.

This is from two years ago. I'm sure there are more sources of info elsewhere.

Zee said...


Thanks for the link and the reminder.

I seem to recollect now that we have discussed the VIPR teams in this forum before, though I don' t know that they've made the news lately.

I shall "google" further.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@annenigma, @James F Traynor, @Zee (and @all):

To add a story that involved the CIA, but that to my knowledge, was never reported on (at least not these specifics):

Around 1970 (give or take a year or two, my memory is a bit hazy with regard to the specific year, but I remember the other details quite well), my father, then working in Europe for the U.S. Navy (as a civilian in U.S. government civil service) was approached by the CIA, which was apparently putting out a feeler for whether he was interested in working for them. (The details of their approach and why they approached him make a fascinating story in itself, but for various reasons I won't get into that here).

Basically, my father said that he told them that he wasn't interested, that he thought their agency didn't know its ass from a hole in the ground, and that if he (my father) could figure out who their operative was in a certain Western European town, so could the other side, and that the agency should get him out of there before their agent got himself hurt.

They (the CIA) didn't, and later, the gentleman referenced was badly hurt (though, ironically, it wasn't in that town, but elsewhere, in a different European country).

The notable points, though, are not any of the above, nor even that their agent was working in a covert way, masquerading as something else (no surprise). An important point is that the "something else" was in higher education; it appears that the CIA was, at that time, 1) infiltrated into higher education, and, most notably, 2) spying on ordinary U.S. college students studying in Western Europe.

(This is quite apart from any less-surprising spying it might have been carrying out via academics in avowed adversary nations:,1632998 )

So today's U.S. governmental spying overreach is nothing new. (That should not be construed as meaning that as a traditional activity, it somehow becomes OK. The overwhelming majority of U.S. governmental spying was then and is now completely unwarranted and unacceptable, and in fact a major danger to our supposed democratic republic. The budgets for the FBI/CIA/NSA should probably be cut by 90%, and we'd all be better off).

Noodge said...

If you would ever like a quick, fun read, check out "The Doorbell Rang," a Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout.

The surveillance state gets its comeuppance.

Yes, I know it's fiction, and what happens in the book could never happen in reality, but it's nice to think it could, and Stout's writing was always wonderful.

Stout was four square opposed to the improper use of state power, and his books - this one in particular - are used as a backdrop for that purpose.

Plus, Nero Wolfe novels are just great fun.

annenigma said...

Re: Whistleblowing Burglars of 1971

Attempting to blackmail MLK into committing suicide by threatening to reveal his extramarital affairs discovered by surveillance, wiretaps, etc has to be one of the most heinous acts of the national security state regime, no matter what name(s) it currently operates under. The only thing worse are their assassinations.

4Runner said...

During the late 60s I was involved with a student-
faculty organization that carried out ongoing anti-war demonstrations & marches. A new grad student started attending our meetings & soon got to be called "Brad the Rad" for his advocacy of more violent action. Which came to a head one night when he gave a demonstration of how to make Molotov cocktails--and he then urged us to firebomb the library. We pretty much disavowed him & told him to leave our group. We found out about a year later that he was the son of a local FBI agent & was being paid to infiltrate/radicalize on behalf of the agency.
I'm sure our campus was not an isolated example of this sort of FBI terrorism.

Pearl said...

Re: the article about the burglars who stole the FBI files brings back
memories. We (my husband's family and us) had the full measure of Hoover and his FBI activities in the late l940's and l950's during the beginnings of the McCarthy years and to this day my father in law's name and description of
his activities per the FBI point of view(Gregory Silvermaster) and all fabricated, are still reported in Wikipedia when you punch his name in. I have written to them demanding they remove this false information without a reply.
So their dirty work lives on and is now a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up everything on everyone which opens the door to blackmail and false accusations. No one is safe from attack when required to prolong the worst excesses of our current corrupt unregulated political system. It is no
surprise to me, just a chill similar to the deep freeze we are currently battling in the environment.
We are facing a very dangerous era in regard to free speech, free choice of political beliefs and protection from invasion of privacy beyond reason. Yes, I definitely feel a chill in the air.

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