Monday, February 24, 2014

Sweepstakes USA

Life in these hyper-capitalistic United States is like a perverse retelling of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. In the revised version, everybody must get stoned. That piece of paper getting plucked from the box? Now it contains many doomed names instead of just the one.

The game is as rigged as ever, and with so many losers getting selected for sacrifice to the Free Market god, the carnival barkers and lottery officials of the Feudal States of America have to come up with ever more novel ways to keep the public conned and complacent. People must be made to feel that they still have a fighting chance to avoid annihilation in the face of the worst wealth disparity since the Gilded Age.

The Powers That Be have to hide the real Lottery behind a whole slew of fake lotteries.

Since the income gap was artificially created in the first place by the perverse policies that deregulated capitalism and allowed for the household wealth of a nation to flow to those at the very top, so must the gap be made to seem to diminish through more sleight of hand and artifice.

They've devised all new games of chance to substitute for a universal safety net of social insurance programs common in democratic societies. We are invited to enter, not so much to win, but for a chance to simply survive. And if we lose, as lose we invariably will, we can still gaze from afar at the few lucky duckies and revel in their isolated victories. Or more accurately, aspirational victories. Because even after they are carefully selected, they are forgotten in the official haste to move on to the next contest, and the next, and the next. In order to be effective, predation disguised as beneficence has got to be lightning-fast.

Since it's neoliberalism rather than democracy at work here in the Homeland,  these contests are  euphemistically called public-private partnerships, or private initiatives funded by taxpayers. Or, corporate welfare at taxpayer expense. Or, if you really want to be blunt -- theft.

Leading the corporate charm offensive in the Grift Sweepstakes is none other than Barack Obama, our carnival barker-in-chief.  Only last month, he picked five lucky poverty pockets in the blighted American landscape to become exploited trickle-down "Promise Zones" plantations. And tomorrow, he'll be announcing that Illinois and Michigan have been selected as the latest "winners" in yet another contest.The lucky duckies whose names got picked out of the Military-Industrial Complex Survivors' Box are mighty excited. The news release is a  feast of hyperbole, designed to rev up the proles into an orgasm of free market fervor:
Top politicians in Illinois joined local leaders in Michigan in trumpeting as a coup news that their states have landed a part in what they consider a revolutionary effort to boost manufacturing innovation, seeded by $140 million from federal taxpayers.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the weekend announced Chicago's selection as eventual home to the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute touted last month in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. A second institute will be located in Canton, Michigan, near Detroit.
Obama, a Chicagoan, is expected to officially announce the $320 million initiative Tuesday at the White House. The Pentagon is contributing $70 million to each of the Illinois and Michigan sites, with the remainder being contributed by states, including $16 million from Illinois, and outside interests that include corporations and universities.

It's all there, folks! It's a coup, it's a revolution, it's innovative, it's an initiative, it's a joint effort by the Eternal War State, the Corporate Gods and their corporatized schools.  But, but, but.....
It was not immediately clear Sunday how many jobs may be created by the initiatives or when those regional hubs could begin work.
But, but, but:
The initiative's Chicago prong bound for the city's Goose Island will push high-tech digital manufacturing and design under the premise that virtual environments may supplant drafting tables as keys to innovation. Illinois officials insisted that lab, led by nonprofit UI Labs, will be the nation's flagship research institute in digital manufacturing, ostensibly bolstering the Defense Department's efficiencies along the way.
"This solidifies Chicago's place as the epicenter of the digital manufacturing revolution that will create thousands of jobs here and make our city the place where the greatest 21st-century innovations are born," Emanuel said. "This cutting-edge digital lab will ensure that the City of Big Shoulders remains the City of Big Discoveries for years to come."
Durbin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, added that the initiative "has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing."
As you can see from the propaganda, although the Great American Lottery always has winners, actually collecting the prize is a whole different ballgame. They're counting on the "folks" not having the initiative to bother checking back and checking up on whether the innovation is real after the money is pocketed, or whether it's just eternally eventual. Or as ruthlessly efficient as the Pentagon's drones.

When I read that Michelle Obama had visited New York last week for a program called "Taking Back the Streets," for a second I thought she'd gone rogue and joined an Occupy encampment. No such luck. I should have known that she was simply promoting bottled designer water labeled with art work produced (for free,of course) by children living in the Income Disparity Capital of the World. It was a lousy commercial within a contest beneath a Lottery disguised as a social movement. Again. The free tap water may be bottled (at a fancy $1.50 a hit) but the message was definitely canned. Do teenage girls living in the Income Disparity Capital of the World really talk like this? --
“Growing up in New York City I got to see New York’s famous graffiti and street art every day,” 13-year-old Sophia Rose Stewart-Chapman told the first lady. “Today, I often feel bombarded by images that can be confusing or encourage poor decision making...It is so important for youth to be inspired by the power of art and this art is creating such an important message. By making drinking water cool, I’m learning that young people just like me can take control of our health.”
Empowered, yet unpaid. It's the American way. But wait. In this case, it doesn't matter if the student artists shilling tap water in designer bottles get paid or not, because they attend the $37,500-a-year Little Red (private) Schoolhouse in New York City. (scholarships available to keep it neoliberally diverse, of course.) Their "value-added community service" project will be just the thing for their Ivy League applications in a couple of years.

Of course, I shouldn't just be picking on multimillionaires like Barack and Michelle, or Rahm, or Dick. Because the Great American Lottery is a joint production of the fabulously wealthy billionaire CEOs of the private sector, those commanding generals in the Class War now trying to recast themselves as philanthropists in order to prevent a real, bottom-up revolution.

Take Conde-Nast, for example.  As Jim Romanesko explains, this publishing empire catering to the rich and famous was rightly castigated last year for ditching their entire crew of unpaid interns rather than be forced to pay them an actual wage. To make up for that public relations debacle, they're now inviting you to enter for a chance to win $50,000 for doing their scut work for them.

By their publications you shall know them: Self, Lucky, Vanity Fair.

And then there's our old friend Comcast, more anxious than ever to transform its image from 21st Century robber baron into Social Welfare champion.... making it all that much easier for its paid-for pals in the Oval Office, Justice Department and Congress to approve its takeover of Time Warner Cable. What better way for Comcast to gain control of the Internet and Everything than by sponsoring lotteries and picking out a few lucky duckies for the vicarious aspirational pleasure of its intended victims?

In one such venture, Comcast has invested a relatively meager (for it) $20 million for minority entrepreneurs to compete for "accelerated startup" funding in its DreamIt subsidiary. So far, they've funded such "catalysts" as a dating site, a homework assistance site, a travel site, and a recipe site. Interested in applying for money from Comcast? Well, of course, the possibility of winning comes with a big But.  Here's the first thing you learn in this version of Lottery USA:
Before we talk about why you should apply to DreamIt as an individual, let’s talk about why you should NOT apply.
First, you will be working your butt off for very little money. Second, there is no guarantee that the company you work with will succeed. Third, even if the company does succeed, there’s no guarantee that you will have a long-term opportunity to stay at the company.
Still reading? Then let’s talk about why you SHOULD apply. The company very well may succeed, and it may succeed in a big way. You will learn a lot and have a blast. You will have the opportunity to impress people who can help you regardless of where your personal path leads. You will have lifelong memories and the opportunity to become one of the many successful entrepreneurs who waxes nostalgic about the early days (and forgets the angst, sleep deprivation, and emotional spikes and dives).

Poverty can be fun. You have nothing left to lose, after all. You are so screwed. You have to be in it to win it. You have only 12 weeks without sleep to succeed or fail.  And if you DreamIt, Comcast will come in a big way, all the way to approval as the biggest monopoly in the Feudal States of America.... because they gave diverse minority folks like you an ephemeral ladder of opportunity.

Bootstraps, everybody! Bootstraps!

Your future is only a click away. 

Update: Of course, the biggest P3 (Public Private Partnership) monstrosity of them all is the Affordable Care Act.Three million people out of at least 47 million uninsured people have signed up so far. The other 44 million gaze longingly from afar, hoping against hope that someday, they too will live to become insured before they die. And Paul Krugman has written his umpteenth column defending this kludge against the silly imprecations of the Republican Party. Sardonicky contributor Pearl Volkov wrote this excellent (TimesPick!) riposte:
Dr.Krugman: Those of us who live in Canada and receive medical care as citizens or permanent residents, simply cannot understand why you keep supporting Obamacare and its controversial complications. There should be none. Proper care for all citizens is only possible if progressive taxation is occurring and health provision regulated and supervised by the proper Health Department of the government. As a result, why aren't you fighting for fairer taxation so that a bill in Congress calling for single payer national coverage is not waiting to be noticed?
If you bother to read the statistics of costs, quality of care, fairness of its provision with no ties to private insurers or employers, you will be able to comprehend that you are barking up the wrong tree on this issue.
The main concern is that the health of U.S. citizens is at a lower level and quality of life as a result of substitutions like Obamacare even if some of its snags work out.


Jay - Ottawa said...

As a species, we pat ourselves on the back for having come a long way. Science is so far advanced, right? We can photograph specs on molecules. We can build things of mind-boggling complexity. Who needs a god? Our technology performs miracles every day, whether it’s in healing bodies, talking with someone in real time on the other side of the globe, or flying to the moon –– these and so many other miracles that would awe the ancients and even the early moderns of a century or two ago.

So, God is dead. Hurray! All the gods of old are dead. Better yet. Where the old gods are not quite dead yet, they are converted into forces under our control to create more havoc. Our military academies raise and harbor Christian fanatics. The Israeli army down through the ranks is also being taken over by religious fanatics.

The Renaissance that famously proclaimed ‘Man is the Measure’ is also dead. Nihilism, fanaticism and militarism are not ridding us of gods but of big numbers of humans. We are proud of our weapons closets at home, our stockpiles of weapons around the globe, our drones unseen but watching us all the time, our brave volunteers in suicide who agree to become bombs.

Man is the measure no longer. Humanity counts for nothing today. The rich and the powerful are busy killing us all the time, need I count the ways? The religions still kicking around are next to useless in stopping the death march. Our fine constitutions and other lofty documents are ignored. The Law is dead. Justice is dead. The testaments of great souls no longer have a place in the curriculum. The great novels have been replaced by dawn-to-dusk text messages and Facebook sludge.

Truth is dead. We cling to propaganda that is raw and propaganda that is subtle. Just so long as it’s not the truth. We’re allergic to truth. Makes us feel really awful. If someone keeps hammering away at the truth too hard we shut him out like a Chomsky, a Nader, a Hedges, a Snowden.

Money isn’t dead; it’s alive. On any day of the week you can see its EKG wave in the stock market graphs. It breaths, it grows, it gets sick, it recovers, oh yes, it’s alive. In some places too much money, in others never enough. It’s the new center of our attention, whether we have it or don’t. Capitalism concentrates money and apparently capitalism won. Eat your heart out Marx. Great piles of money are now suffocating everything –– fresh ideas, the old morality, the environment and humanity itself. A few people care but not in numbers of any consequence.

Society is dead. For sure, their organizations of self-protection are unraveling. Most of us are standing around idly watching the last show on earth or more comfortably ignoring it. Oh, there’s the Ukraine, yes. A little civic activity there for sure this weekend. Will that turn out to be another Spring that withers? Putin couldn’t do much frontier crossing while hosting the Olympic Circus. But with the Olympic Torch out in Sochi the good Vladimir is more free to act like the old Vladimir –– or any of a bunch of other world leaders out to advance their national interests.

Oh wait. National interest is also dead. It’s been overrun by multinationals doing the globalization thing. Give me another reason, if you can, for the TPP. Well, it always was a bit of a tug of war in the US of A between business and government. The White House no longer controls Wall Street. Wall Street controls the WH and anything else it has to buy out in its vertical integration of everything that can be commodified.

God is dead. Humanism is dead. The earth itself is getting irreversibly sick and within sight of its sixth mass extinction. Those twins, Mars and Mamon won. Give them the gold.

Will said...

Beautifully bitter words, Jay. Would that my dark nights of the soul be expressed with such eloquence!

James F Traynor said...

Wow, Jay, I'm going to fill the tub with warm water, get in with a single malt and open a vein. But of course I won't, not because you're wrong, which you, unfortunately, aren't, but because it's simply not in my nature. So I'll go to the gym for my daily two hour work out, get my monthly deep massage, come home, feed and walk the dogs and attempt a differential equation or two. A poor man's Nero plucking at his lyre.

Oh, and I did read Pearl's response to Krugman yesterday, but have just realized it was 'our Pearl'.
We're turning into a veritable hornets' nest under Karen's tutelage.

fahrenheit451 said...

Here's how we do the dream and the "bootstraps" in Maryland: leading the nation in millionaires per capita...

and then this legislative proposal in the wake of a stalled minimum wage bill in Annapolis:
raising the size of the estate tax exemption/threshold...