Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lambs to the Slaughter

Humanity to Barack Obama: Don't pee down our backs and tell us it's raining.

The president last week signed a nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill that, besides rewarding the ultra-rich, immediately cuts an average $100 a month from the food stamp stipends of nearly a million more people. Yet there he goes, traveling the country, claiming to be a champion of the oppressed. Look at the graphic put out by the White House. The most cherished aspect of the Farm Bill is that it "strengthens the economy" by reducing the deficit in the usual way: enriching the rich while immiserating the poor. So much for Income Inequality being the "challenging issue" of Obama's time. I think he meant that it's a challenge for him to hide the wealth gap by constructing a flimsy neoliberal "Opportunity Bridge" over it.

 And the media, bless their cold, cold hearts, are giving Obama the usual free pass for his marathon cruise down the Hypocrisy Highway. 

Paul Krugman is a case in point. Although he has previously railed against cuts to food assistance at a time when more people than ever are in need of it, he is now choosing to ignore the ignominious signing ceremony. He used his latest column space to once again elide the connivance of Obama and his Democratic toadies, and blast Republicans for "writing off" the unemployed.

My published response:
While the GOP is sadistically open in their disdain for struggling people, "centrist" Democrats try to keep their own complicity hidden behind their increasingly feeble "I feel your pain" platitudes.
For example, when the president signed the corporation-friendly Farm Bill last week, he effectively condemned almost a million more people -- the young, the disabled, the working poor, and the elderly -- to hunger. He put his imprimatur on an additional $8 billion in SNAP cuts. Yet, he had the chutzpah to call it a bipartisan victory! He suggested, with a straight face and with all apparent sincerity, that people can now use less money to buy more farm-fresh food! He even blustered on about deficit reduction, celebrating "common sense" reforms. (When politicians yack about common sense, you can rest assured that the commons will not benefit.)
He's euphemized income inequality into "the opportunity gap." Austerity is alive and well in both branches of the Money Party. Republicans hate you with a passion, Democrats love you to death. Corporate con artists get tax breaks and deferred prosecution agreements. And you get bupkis.
And so, when they flood my inbox with appeals for campaign donations in order to "make my voice heard" on the social ill du jour, I inform them that all my spare change is going to help my food bank. My long-term unemployed, retired, low-wage and disabled neighbors shouldn't have to choose between heating and eating in this long, hard, cold, cruel winter.
There is a woman in my town who, even though she herself is on disability and her 13-year-old car is falling apart, has made it her mission to drive around to the homes of needy neighbors to distribute the day-old bread that the local bakery is giving away for free. This past weekend, a bunch of high school kids held a food drive outside the Stop N Shop, asking emerging customers to donate just one item from their shopping carts for the rapidly depleting local food pantry. That's how bad it's getting in New York and many other areas of the country.

But Marie Antoinette's disembodied head must have been beaming and cackling from the grave last week at the spectacle of Obama signing the Farm Bill in Michigan. I'm including some highlights (or should I say storm-clouds) of his speech. Gratuitous overused neoliberal buzzwords, a/k/a soothing dog-whistles to Wall Street, are in bold:
 And today, thanks to your grit and your ingenuity and dogged determination, the American auto industry’s engines are roaring again and we are building the best cars in the world again.  And some plants are running three shifts around the clock -- something that nobody would have imagined just a few years ago.  (Applause.)
(And the auto union has been decimated and the wages have sunk, but the new CEO of GM is now getting paid the insane salary of $14 million a year. Using the tried and true flattery method, Obama goes on the immediate offensive. Cajole  the regular workers into feeling good by praising their grit. Make them believe that their toiling in sleep-deprived swing shifts for the benefit of the uber-rich is the patriotic thing to do. The workers of America, though not well-paid, are akin to noble heroic sled dogs, determined to carry the load over the frozen wastes of the corporate globe with nary a pause for food or rest. So stop your barking and forge ahead!)
 I just had lunch with Detroit’s new Mayor, Mike Duggan.  (Applause.)  He told me if there’s one thing that he wants everybody to know, it’s that Detroit is open for business.  And I have great confidence that he’s going to provide the leadership that we need.  (Applause.)  Really proud of him.  The point is we’ve all had to buckle downWe’ve all had to work hardWe’ve had to fight our way back these past five years.  And in a lot of ways, we are now better positioned for the 21st century than any other country on Earth.
(He gets applause for announcing that he ate lunch? So much neoliberal bunk in just one tiny paragraph. The new mayor replacing the jailed mayor has gotten the message and hastens to reassure Wall Street that his tragic city is wide open for capitalistic plunder. Obama's repetitive use of We manipulates the audience into believing that the rentiers extracting the resources and the victims being extracted are members of the same team. He tries to fool you into thinking the rich are "sacrificing" as much as you are. Thanks to the financial meltdown orchestrated by unprosecuted financiers, we are now better positioned to screw you over, because it's always easier for financial bullies to kick the little guy, the pensioner, the retired teacher, when they're already down.)
This morning, we learned that our businesses in the private sector created more than 140,000 jobs last month, adding up to about 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years.  (Applause.)  Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been since before I was first elected.  Companies across the country are saying they intend to hire even more folks in the months ahead.  And that’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.
(Nice try, Mr. Plutocratic Front Man. Officially, there are 10 million unemployed people in America, up from 6.8 million in 2007. One out of every six men of working age is jobless. There are three times as many long-term unemployed today than there were in 2006. As the World Socialist Website explains it, "these figures tell just part of the story, since they track only those who are actively looking for work. According to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a further 5.73 million 'missing workers' have dropped out of the labor force over the past five years for non-demographic reasons. If these missing workers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 9.9 percent.
"The true scale of the jobs deficit is indicated by the fact that the US economy had 866,000 fewer jobs last month than it had in January 2008, while the working-age population had increased by ten million people.")

Sounds more like a Breaking Bad year for America, if you ask me
And I’ve come here today to sign a bill that hopefully means folks in Washington feel the same way -- that instead of wasting time creating crises that impede the economy, we’re going to have a Congress that’s ready to spend some time creating new jobs and new opportunities, and positioning us for the future and making sure our young people can take advantage of that future.
And that’s important, because even though our economy has been growing for four years now, even though we’ve been adding jobs for four years now, what’s still true -- something that was true before the financial crisis, it’s still true today -- is that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are doing better than ever, but the average American’s wages, salaries, incomes haven’t risen in a very long time.  A lot of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by -- much less get ahead -- and that’s been true since long before the financial crisis and the Great Recession.
(I've said it before, and I'll say it again: heed Noam Chomsky, and run for the hills whenever you hear a politician utter the word folks. Obama uses the word in two different contexts. First, as a term to subtly denigrate you. You're just plain folks, instead of astute human beings. Second, he uses the term to soften up and humanize plunderers and miscreants -- such as, "the folks on Wall Street," and "the folks in Washington." George W. Bush, though, really took it too far that time he talked about "the terrorist folks."

But back to the above paragraph. This is the standard part of every Obama speech where the left side of his mouth seems to take over, and he pivots and appears to be talking to or debating with himself. We're booming back, but wait... we're not really booming back. He feels your pain, folks! He gets that you're suffering succotash, and that the One Percent is sucking it all up. Of course, even though he is overseeing the worst wealth disparity in American history, the trend started long, long, long before he himself became a Washington Folk.)
And so we’ve got to reverse those trends We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few.  We’ve got to restore the idea of opportunity for all people -- the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you came from, how you started out, what your last name is, you can make it if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility.  That’s the idea at the heart of this country. That’s what’s at stake right now.  That’s what we’ve got to work on.  (Applause.)
(We, we, we, all the way to the ideational, nonexistent Land of Opportunity where taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth are never mentioned. Again, with the free market gospel of "if you work hard and play by the rules, you too can dream of riches beyond your wildest imagination". He stresses the Randian power of the individual will, rather than the need for community and solidarity with your fellow human beings. Soothe the plutocrats, nip the idea of a resurgence of the Occupy movement right in the bud.)
 And that is why I could not be prouder of our leaders who are here today.  Debbie in particular, I could not be prouder of your own Debbie Stabenow, who has done just extraordinary work.  (Applause.)  We all love Debbie for a lot of reasons.  She’s been a huge champion of American manufacturing but really shepherded through this farm bill, which was a very challenging piece of business.  She worked with Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who I think was very constructive in this process.  We had Representatives Frank Lucas, a Republican, working with Collin Peterson, a Democrat.  We had a terrific contribution from our own Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who deserves a big round of applause.  (Applause.)
(Challenging and Constructive are Austerian code words for cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat who came up with the bright idea of cutting food stamps for people who also get extra heating assistance during the coldest winter in living memory, also receives more financial aid from Big Ag than any other senator. But here, she is hilariously cast by her Party Leader as the Tender Shepherd....omitting the X-rated part where the flock gets turned into lamb chops... or maybe even the dreaded giraffe meat.  

  Now here comes the comic relief part, where in inappropriately jocular fashion, Obama pivots to the real Nitty Gritty:
Now, despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers.  Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill.  It’s like a Swiss Army knife.  (Laughter.)  It’s like Mike Trout -- for those of you who know baseball.  (Laughter.)  It’s somebody who’s got a lot of tools.  It multitasks.  It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity.  And there are two big ways in which it does so.
(At least he's being unintentionally honest about the cuts and the pain. Swiss army knives, baseball bats, sharp tools, and shots never fail to get a big guffaw from the ovine audience being lead to the slaughter!)
This bill supports businesses working to develop cutting-edge biofuels -- like some of the work that's being done here at Michigan State.  That has the potential to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  It boosts conservation efforts so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy places like the Mississippi River Valley and Chesapeake Bay.
(Reaganomics won't just trickle down,it'll gush forth in a veritable flood of liquid manure. And why not, since Obama got his political start with the help of such Big Ag megaliths as Archer Daniels Midland. Corn, baby, corn! For our children, of course.)
It supports local food by investing in things like farmers markets and organic agriculture -- which is making my wife very happy.  And when Michelle is happy, I don't know about everybody being happy, but I know I'm happy.  (Laughter and applause.)  And so it's giving smaller producers, local producers, folks like Ben, the opportunity to sell more of their products directly, without a bunch of processing and distributors and middlemen that make it harder for them to achieve.  And it means that people are going to have healthier diets, which is, in turn, going to reduce incidents of childhood obesity and keep us healthier, which saves us all money.
(Whenever Obama is trying to pull a fast one, he references Michelle as both his inspiration and the object of his fear. You might even call the word Michelle a neoliberal catch-phrase as used in the context of an Obama speech. He is telling us that he is just like all the henpecked husbands of America, tryin' to avoid the wrath of Wifey. Of course, he fails to mention that it was Michelle's Let's Move healthy school lunch program that "borrowed" the first round of cuts from the SNAP funding last year.)
The second thing this farm bill does -- that is huge -- is help make sure America’s children don’t go hungry.  (Applause.)   And this is where Debbie’s work was really important.  One study shows that more than half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives.  Now, for most folks that's when you're young and you're eating ramen all the time.  But for a lot of families, a crisis hits, you lose your job, somebody gets sick, strains on your budget -- you have a strong work ethic, but it might take you six months, nine months, a year to find a job.  And in the meantime, you’ve got families to feed.
(I really don't know what to make of this paragraph. I suppose he means that by cutting only $8 billion from food stamps in this go-round, only a million more households will have to go hungry... as opposed to all 47 million currently receiving meager SNAP benefits. But still, it took a lot of chutzpah for him to utter those words. And he's not done yet. Totally ignoring, a la Paul Krugman, those one million unlucky "undeserving poor" duckies getting cut with his folksy Swiss Army Knife, he continues the charade:)
That’s why my position has always been that any farm bill I sign must include protections for vulnerable Americans, and thanks to the good work of Debbie and others, this bill does that.  (Applause.)  And by giving Americans more bang for their buck at places like farmers markets, we’re making it easier for working families to eat healthy foods and we're supporting farmers like Ben who make their living growing it.  So it’s creating new markets for produce farmers, and it means that people have a chance to directly buy from their farmers the kind of food that’s going to keep them healthy.
(Again, the Good Shepherdess and her Mother Teresa-like Good Works persona serves to mask the bipartisan condemnation to hunger of nearly one million additional people. This is the part of the speech I referenced in my Krugman comment, where Obama insinuates that you can now buy more farm-fresh food with less food stamp money. So gas up the car, folks, and have a folksy visit with Old MacDonald. Ee-i-ee-i-oh....bama.)
And the truth is a lot of folks go through tough times at some points in their lives.  That doesn’t mean they should go hungry.  Not in a country like America.  So investing in the communities that grow our food, helping hardworking Americans put that food on the table -- that’s what this farm bill does, all while reducing our deficits through smart reforms. 
It doesn’t include everything that I’d like to see.  And I know leaders on both sides of the aisle feel the same way.  But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill, break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven partisan decision-making, and actually get this stuff done.  (Applause.)  That's a good sign.
(They shouldn't go hungry, but because Obama just signed this abomination of a Farm Bill, they will be going hungry. Instead of mewling he'd prefer not to see kids going to bed hungry, he could have vetoed the bill and sent it back to Congress, demanding that SNAP be expanded and kids get fed three times a day. But that wouldn't have been Bipartisan. It wouldn't have been a good sign. Millionaires agreeing trumps vulnerable people eating. 

And despite claims from Krugman and others that Austerity Is Dead and the deficit hawks have all flown home with their tail-feathers between their legs, Obama is still harping on Deficit Reduction. This is the biggest dog-whistle of all to Pete Peterson and the cabal of Wall Street billionaires who feel personally affronted every time a regular person gets an "entitlement." Smart reforms, as you all know, is another neoliberal buzzword for continued pain for the masses, and boundless pleasure for the insatiable greedheads of the plutocracy. People who, despite giving nothing back to society, are never held accountable for the ten-course luxury meals they enjoy on the public dime. Meals they enjoy thanks in large part to the latest gift of corporate welfare bestowed upon them in the latest Farm Bill.)

(The bill is signed.)  (Applause.) 


Cirze said...


You are a wonder!

You've succinctly captured the happy-talk evil doing happening today under the mask of icing on the yummy bipartisan hope(less) cake.

I've lost my heretofore all-too-limited ability to write equably and without wincing about this fraudulent bunch of neocon (at best) Dims, but you've made me "hopeful" that some will continue to document this and to fight on for the 99% who are more and more being smilingly dismissed as they are left out of all the "great for everyone" business deals (until the bills come due).

The last cut in food stamps leaves many of us trying to subsist on less than $1 a meal while still putting out our resumes in hopes of procuring one of those mythical newly-created jobs.

Thanks for all you've done to inspire us and carry on the mission of real hope for change.

James F Traynor said...

Great job, Karen. I only hope more people will be reading your blog as a result of your comments in the NYT. You're really doing wonderful work.

fahrenheit451 said...

Written with depth and passion, Karen.

The only way the current political dynamic staggers on is to continue the trajectory of the past 30 years: the Center poses as a left because it keeps what's left of a real left on a tight participation leash, and the Center continues to cave to the Right and make concessions as the price of "bipartisanship." You rightly shred the awful verbiage Obama gushes out on this. On issue after issue. Things would fall apart if a real left came to power either as an independent force or by capturing the Democratic Party. Or raise powerful currents outside the political process. And my assumption in stating this is that the basic numbers on the broad spectrum distribution between left and right don't change much. (And this is a classic pattern in many revolutionary situations, including our own Revolution: society sliced into thirds, the largest and most wavering in the middle.

There is no real room for compromise between a social democratic left and even a FDR type of new New Deal, and the Right, given the nature of the ideas they hold. This is not exaggeration, this is a stark reality.

Optimistic folks on the left can point, like the Center pollsters do - that issue by issue, the left seems to be doing ok; but as we've seen with the ACA "reform," once the poll question assumes the policy table of real life, you can throw those optimistic numbers out.

This is what I call the political "Wall," and if you listen carefully to the segments on the RealNews network of Nader, Alperovitz and Hedges, they each have a way of evading this reality. Nader says give me a billion dollars and I will mobilize a thousand volunteers in each congressional district, and then the Center-Right will hear the "rumble of the people." Well, perhaps, I think it is growing and the response to Karen's comments at the Times is one measure of that. But that is one audience, we don't know how much further it extends. In other comments Nader wonders out loud whether "the people" today would respond the way they did in the 1960's and 1970's, when his organizations were a force and got things done inside Congress.

Hedges says the tinder for revolution is to be found in downwardly mobile folks, former professionals, and the lost generation of college graduates without meaningful work and with high debts.

Alperovtize says this is the most important time in America - the most frought - since our Revolution. He has an "all of the above" strategy, but his real hope is to build new participatory and ownership patterns in new cooperative and community based economic institutions and really shake up the scale at which economics and ecology works. It might take 30 years and he, just like Nader, says when you put successful concrete achievements in front of people at the local level, the left/right barriers I make such a large obstacle out of - I say they are irreconcilable - melt away in good old American pragmaticism...in many ways he sounds like Wendell Berry in his recent Jefferson Lecture...but Karen you have laid out the bitter and biting reality of the lives the middle on down lead...I don't know whether the time they ask for exists...or is fair to the pressures of economic reality.

I don't think Hedges shares this view, and he has the existentially grimmer view of things.

Enough for now, an overview of things on the left...from where I sit.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, everyone. Do any of you have an opinion on the Moral Mondays movement? At first glance it looks like a resurgence of Occupy, but over at Black Agenda Report they're calling it a co-opted Democratic Party operation run by Democrats who've been complicit in turning over state govt to the lords of finance. I'll have to look into it further before forming an opinion. One thing in its favor, though, is that the corporate media aren't covering it... so maybe the PTB fear it and maybe it really is at least partially grass roots.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Cirze - where are all these new jobs? And how many of them are decently paid. Or are all the them minimum wage with no benefits.

As always, great job, Karen. I simply can't stand to watch or even listen to Obummer, he is such a hypocrite.So it is very appreciated that you summarise his speeches for me.

I just had a visitor who is a uni prof in Washington state. She said the latest trend in the public schools is to have a "scripted curriculum." This means that the teachers are basically told what to say when teaching. Gone are the days when teachers were asked to research and come up with creative and exciting ways to teach their subject matter. Now it is not only teach to the test by using the assigned text book (often published by the same company designing the test)but now the teacher is not allowed to use her own approach to teaching the material. Mark my words, when they are done with this, they will say any monkey paid minimum wage can do what the teachers do. Gone are the days when teachers are in a position to inspire a love of reading or a passion for their subject in their students. Talk about effectively squashing intellectual curiosity - but that seems to be the plan - a dull-witted populace is easy to manipulate and control.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

That last anonymous was me, Valerie. I must have accidentally hit the wrong button.

fahrenheit451 said...

Karen and readers:

Thanks for your toleration of my miss-spelling of "pragmatism" - maybe it was a deeper sourced error than I realized - William James and John Dewey notwithstanding - linked in my psyche to today's bipartisanship.

This morning's NY Times, print edition page A-20, has an interesting article on Co-ops, "Co-ops Find They Aren't to Every Taste," by Vivian Yee. I'm thinking of Karen's question about the North Carolina movement - which I don't have a feel for - and I think you've got to be close to the local setting, which is the take here in Ms. Yee's article on co-ops - with an upscale gentrification persona struggling to win over the poor.

The connection to my comments from last night is the fact that this is what author Gar Alperovitz is calling for and writing about in "What Then Must We Do," but he doesn't even get a mention here in the Times: once again the disconnect between the formal left - and mainstream journalism.
One of the criticisms I've made of Gar's work is that in American history - and you could say this about modern Spain and the Mondragon efforts - is that co-ops can exist and flourish even, without transforming the broader society. And in this article they are caught in their own swirl of gentrification, the cash-short poor (the membership fee mentioned is triple Cosco's), class and local ethnic tensions.

Don't get me wrong: American society cries out for more solidarity, more co-operation, more Sermon on the Mount and less cut-throat competition, but part of the story in our culture is that American Dream, based even in Lincoln's time on "the race of life." That's why sterling writer Mike Davis gave a title to his very first book, a history of American labor and its relation to the Democratic Party, "Prisoners of the American Dream."

annenigma said...

I'm agnostic on the Moral March (Moral Mondays) movement. The minister leading it, Rev. William Barber, has degrees in political science and public policy. I wonder if he's made any visits off the record across the street from the White House - Obama never misses a trick.

More power to them though if they are fighting the good fight. So far my only information is from an article in Common Dreams titled 'Moral March Poses Big Questions for Progressives'. I say it's about time the religious people start walking the talk.

When/if we hear that the police state is cracking down on them and the corporate media is ridiculing and marginalizing them, then we'll know they're for real. Since they seem to be currently ignored by the mainstream press, I take that as a good sign that they haven't yet been bought off by the OFA.

Being a Congressional election year, the time is ideal for any movement to make some really big waves. How the MM uses this opportune time will tell us all we need to know. They're worth watching.


James F Traynor said...

Moral Mondays? Like Occupy and the Wisconsin demonstrations against Walker, I think they're all symptoms of the same thing, a growing public frustration and anger against the status quo. I don't think, as Black Agenda apparently does, that it has been started and/or co-opted by the NAACP. It is simply another manifestation of a growing general unrest. Local political leaders, even national ones, may try to take advantage of it (its in the nature of the beast) but they're not really leading, just following at the front of the crowd.

What I'm thinking about is what the oligarchs will do in reaction. We've seen their strategy and tactics against Occupy, but they must realize now that this is a much bigger thing and a very real threat to their power.

farenheit451 said...

Also in today's NY Times, the obituary of the nation's chief morale officer, after FDR, during the Great Depression, Shirley Temple (Black).

What say you readers, is this not a topic for Ms. Garcia? I confess to never having watched one of her Depression era movies all the way through, catching segments on TCM was enough for me. And I don't think I would have been a fan; if I had lived during the 1930's I might have been for Norman Thomas, or caught the Trots...who knows...but to deliver my mind to Shirley for instruction...this was not a young Joan of Arc...and in some of my conversations with neighbors since the 2008 near collapse, I have thought that there is something childlike in the American intellectual response to our current troubles...beginning to change as readers just above have noted.

And I see that Karen has recommended some new reading this morning, and it looks great, a must read.

I can only offer something I came across in my research about the American Dream and its connection to our response to the Great Recession and beyond, a piece by Paul Cantor which appeared in the summer of 2013 issue of Hedgehog Review: "The Apocalyptic Strain in Popular Culture: The American Nightmare Becomes the American Dream." Here at


I thought it was a provocative, challenging piece, about the zombie phenomenon, especially the series The Walking Dead. I suppose you could say that they too, in the show, have come up with a form of co-operation built out of desperation and no role for government or other nodes in civil society. They are back to the state of nature, armed to the teeth, a Hobbesian world. Here's how some writers' citizens "find themselves" in the chaos of late American civilization, in its apocalyptic stage...some echoes of Chris Hedges writing from the opposite side of the spectrum, without the environmental emphasis. Quite a shift from the days of Shirley Temple dancing, charming our depression days away...and quite a bit different from Morris Dickstein's excellent "Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009).

From tap dancing to the zombie's death dance...and shooting everything outside one's circle that moves..