Friday, September 5, 2014

Sweetness and Blight

The latest in Bam Spam:

Take it from one who knows: The constant maintenance of cynicism is exhausting. So when I eagerly clicked on the link in the email from Obama factotum Jon Carson to learn just how I, too, can stand up to cynicism and give Hope a chance, I fell right back into the morass.  It was nothing but another freakin' money grub from Obama's political machine! Not even one Panglossian quote, or a picture of Pollyanna, or a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, or anything to make us feel better. Just gimme, gimme, gimme.

You may cynically be thinking that the cynical' "Don't be cynical" campaign theme is the final gasp of a dying presidency to a moribund nation which, despite its abysmal ranking on the Gini coefficient scale of income inequality, seems bound and determined to start World War III. To be sure, there are only two fronts so far: the entire Middle East, and Ukraine. But please, stand up to the cynicism that I know that you are feeling right now! The entire continent of Africa is also up for corporate plunder.  And like a gigantic red. white, and blue vulture, USA is encircling China as well. There are shadow wars going on all around the world to keep hope alive. There will be plenty more military bases where that first thousand came from.

For his own part, Obama is fighting back against cynicism by channeling Herbert "Prosperity Is Just Around the Corner" Hoover rather than his successor, who sanely and cynically welcomed the hatred of the plutocrats. But Obama feels nothing but love for the plutocracy. He even told a bunch of working people so during his Laborfest speech this week:
It’s a good thing that corporate profits are high; I want American businesses to succeed.  It’s a good thing that the stock market is booming; a lot of folks have 401Ks in there, I want them to feel good.
And since the moonshot, there's the obligatory shout-out to war as our first weapon against cynicism:
Cynicism is fashionable these days, but cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon.  Cynicism never won a war, it never cured a disease, it never started a business, it never fed a young mind, it never built a road or a bridge.Cynicism is a bad choice.  Hope is the better choice.  Hope is what gives us courage.  Hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach.
Or drone a predator missile, or torture some folks, whether it be by waterboarding, force-feeding or sleep deprivation. Just who is being cynical here? Obama's words literally drip with it, along with disdain for common folk. His speech to working stiffs was.... you guessed it.... nothing but a vote-grabbing ploy in a midterm election year:
Don’t boo, vote.  (Applause.)  Don’t boo, vote.  It’s easy to boo -- I want you to vote.  Don’t boo, vote.
And would an Obama speech be an Obama speech without (besides his annoying verbal tics) a gratuitous mention of how grizzled he's getting in the War Against Cynicism? The constant bullshit must take a toll even on a clinical narcissist:
So I just want everybody to understand -- because you wouldn’t always know it from watching the news -- (laughter) -- by almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office.  (Applause.)  We’re better off by almost every measure.  But, look, none of this progress has come easy.  Every inch of it we have had to fight for.  Every inch of it we’ve had to work against a lockstep opposition that is opposed to everything we do.But it was worth it.  Every gray hair is worth it.  (Applause.)  Every gray hair is worth it -- and at least I’ve still got some hair.  (Applause.)

Would it be un-Pollyannish of me to mention that by every measure, people are actually worse off since Obama took office? Of course, if you define "the economy" and "American workers" as the top One Percent who raked in more than 90% of the wealth regained since the 2008 crash, then yes, "we" are better off.

Still, even the Federal Reserve cynically insists that by every measure, only the most affluent Americans have actually recovered. As Binyamin Appelbaum reports,
For the most affluent 10 percent of American families, average incomes rose by 10 percent from 2010 to 2013. For the rest of the population, average incomes were flat or falling.
The least affluent families had the largest declines. Average incomes dropped by 8 percent for the bottom 20 percent of families, the Fed reported in its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, one of the most comprehensive sources of data on the financial health of American families.
The new report, broadly consistent with other data on the aftermath of the Great Recession, underscores why so many Americans think the economy remains in poor health. While the pie has grown, most people are getting smaller slices.
Appelbaum is so cynical. Obama would tell him that even a tiny slice of rancid pie is better than no slice at all. Crumbs are especially tasty when they fall from the gilded plates of the wealthy, and the poor are forced to grovel on the floor for them. It's what gives the plutocrats the ego-stroking they crave when they join such philanthro-capitalist efforts as Obama's "Brothers' Keeper" program. It must give them the grand illusion of being gargantuan zoo-keepers.

The result is that wealth also is increasingly concentrated. While overall wealth barely changed during the survey period, the money sloshed from the bottom toward the top. For the top 10 percent of families, ranked by income, estimated average wealth increased by 2 percent to $3.3 million. For the bottom 20 percent of families, average wealth sharply declined by 21 percent to $65,000.
There is growing evidence that inequality may be weighing on economic growth by keeping money disproportionately in the hands of those who already have so much they are less inclined to spend it.
The passive "sloshing" of wealth from the bottom to the top is not quite cynically realistic enough, in my view. A better, non-Panglossian metaphor would have been that the elites took a giant straw and deliberately sucked up every last vestige of sustenance from the bottom of the glass. 

 The stock market bubble that Obama so effusively praised is bound to burst, sooner rather than later. I'd say that the gluttony of the elites will kill them right along with us, except that they've cynically come to expect bailouts and wrist-slaps as a reward for greed, rather than prison time or increased taxes on their ill-gotten gains.

So given the choice, I think I'll keep picking cynicism. It sure beats the mindless acceptance of corruption, which is hazardous to our mental, physical and emotional health. Sorry, Doctor Pangloss -- I'd rather be mad than depressed.



Isaiah Earhart said...

I also choose cynicism.

Thank you Karen for this brilliant piece.

I clicked on the link to Obama's speech. I couldn't read the speech. I tried to read the speech, but my mind kept wondering to thoughts like,"does he really think we are this stupid?" and "how do union members get this close to this liar without throwing up in their own mouths?"

pete v said...

What's that Lily Tomlin quote? No matter how cynical you get, it's never enough to keep up.

Isaiah, yes - he really thinks we are that stupid. Hell, we elected him two times.

4Runner said...

Interesting juxtaposition of 2 articles on the front Business page of today's Miami Herald. On top, an article about yesterday's local fast food workers (7 of whom were arrested) demonstrating for $15/hour. Directly below it, a piece about "The Priciest Pad on the Market", being a $139 million, 60,000 sq ft mansion for sale on Millionaires' Mile in Hillsboro Beach. It comes with a 30-car underground garage and 500' of oceanfront beach, both of which we optimists can only hope will be underwater from the predicted 4-5 foot rise in south Florida sea levels.

Zee said...

I did not choose to be cynical. Rather, reality chose to make me into a cynic.

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.”—George Carlin

And disappointed I have been, with alarming frequency.

To my mind, it really is pretty effortless to maintain the mindset of a cynic, what with all the evidence of the failings of humankind manifesting themselves, non-stop, around the globe.

Far more difficult, I would argue, is it to sustain much confidence in the basic decency of humanity –not that it doesn't exist here and there even today—given all the evidence to the contrary that we see in the daily news.

And cynicism is especially warranted regarding those who seek to “govern” us.

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule. —H.L. Mencken (My bold emphasis.)

Trust whom you will to "govern" us, you will, in the end, be disappointed.

Ergo, that government might just be best which governs least. Which is not, of course, to say, "governs not at all," which is the usual canard thrown at libertarians (or Libertarians) of all stripes and capitalizations.

Pearl said...

"Roosevelts to the Rescue" by Timothy Egan printed in the NYTimes is a fluff piece, without the true understanding of the FDR years. Comparison is made to President Obama and what is disappointing is the majority of commenters supporting Obama and not realizing the world of difference between the two - from greatest to worst. But I remember that at that dark time there was no cynicism, there was hope because the right people at the right time appeared by a massive stroke of luck and showed us what was possible.
People are not innately hostile and selfish no more than otherwise as it is the circumstances that create them. We are all a blank canvas when we arrive into this world and what is created can be anything possible.
The problem is how to keep the real cynics from controlling the environment and keeping the others from sharing what is available and then destroying hope and possibility for their own purposes. Those that grab for themselves do not believe in decency or fairness and feel it necessary to protect themselves any way they can to feed their cynicism.
So friends, we are not the cynics, we are their victims who want us to lose hope, defer dreams in order to feed their greed. But I admit, I have lost hope, but not in those who fight and struggle on, sometimes in vain. I honor them.
But it creates a sadness in my soul that never seems to leave.
And I can only remember those FDR years when all things seemed possible.

Denis Neville said...

According to Obama, people like us, who don't support him, are cynical.

“They’ve been taught to be cynical. They’re doubtful it can be done. I’m here to say tonight to all those who harbor those doubts: We need you. We need you to help us through. Just stand up to cynicism and give Hope a chance!” – Obama, during the most monumentally cynical political campaigns of modern times

When you wish upon a star, you don’t see things as they are.

Hope and authentic inner well-being are not the products of false political promises that will never be fulfilled. Whoever can offer true hope, rather than false promises, will have the most value to offer us.

Cynical talking points exist by the bushel these days.

Talk to people who grew up during the last Great Depression. Their ethical clarity seems far from obvious to many Americans today.

"Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.... Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." -Vaclav Havel

Perhaps not much will change.

Life's too short and I have things to do.

“What would happen if the government collapsed?”

“So, if the government ever collapsed, your job would be to be a good person, to have hope and work hard and do your best to help make the world a better place. To love others and believe the best of people and do what you can to make your community safe and happy, to support and help those who are vulnerable and strive to always be kind, compassionate and fair. All right? That’s your job now, and that will always be your job, whether or not there’s a government. It might get a little harder, or it might get easier. But the really basic truths of life don’t change.” - Alison Leigh Lilly

"Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency." - Rebecca Solnit

Jay - Ottawa said...

President Happy Talk wants us to play the Glad Game. One damn thing after another keeps getting in the way.

In an unusually fine article, First Look’s Ryan Devereaux makes clear how Ferguson, along with so many other localities across America, breeds cynics. Read the following and tell me you don’t find yourself in a cynical moment, leading “hopefully” to a greater sense of solidarity with the oppressed in this land of the free –– even if you yourself are not caught up –– yet –– in its multiplying Catch-22s. Sweet Talk in the wrong setting is vile. Solidarity, not Hope, is what an honest, visionary leader would be preaching from his bully pulpit.

Devereaux connects with the people around him in Ferguson. He explains how profiling and a crooked and pervasive warrant system serves as another straw to suck hope out of a community. The same straw sucks money out of the pockets of the poor and into the coffers of the police and the courts. Pay up or end up in debtors prison. In some localities, fines not taxes go a long way to support government, with a surplus to boot.

BTW, “The Intercept” is suddenly up to the level its founders promised. It took a year, but at last the format and the reporting have arrived. It’s not just Greenwald, Snowden’s stash, and the NSA anymore. Even the trolls in the comment section are a notch or two above those found elsewhere.

Pearl said...

Elizabeth Warren Finally Speaks on Israel/Gaza, Sounds Like Netanyahu