Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Down and Out in the Homeland

Morale has gotten so bad over at DHS, they should probably make the initials stand for Depressed Hacky-Sacks.

Jeh Johnson, chief of the Department of Homeland Security, says he is very dejected about the low happiness scores of his minions, who scored the lowest of the low in job satisfaction among all federal government agencies. He has therefore announced a brand new initiative designed to instill some gladness into his airport gropers as well as putting all that lost disaster fun back into FEMA.

Only half the DHS workers surveyed scored well in the "engagement" category, with about the same percentage proclaiming themselves less than "globally satisfied." This is 10 percent lower than 2010's globally satisfied engagement scores. 

Do you suspect that the low scores might have as much to do with respondents not knowing what the hell these questions even mean as with how happy they are making $10 an hour patting down passengers in Airport Security Theater?  Do you ever even have the time to stop and ponder about how engaged and globally satisfied you are as you schlep through your own crappy job?

The Washington Post has the whole sorry scoop:
Even worse, DHS fell 1 percent in both categories this year, despite a frenzy of morale-boosting efforts including an employee steering committee dedicated to fairness in hiring and promotions, enhanced employee training programs and Johnson’s department-wide “Unity of Effort” initiative, designed to tackle the department’s management challenges. DHS’s struggles with employee morale date back to its creation during the George W. Bush administration, when 22 autonomous agencies were plucked from across the government and welded into one department.
That pretty much explains the morale issues. Who wouldn't be disgruntled after being plucked like a free-range chicken and then welded into one hot stinking cage on a factory farm? The CIA is not the only agency that knows how to "torture some folks." I suppose that we, the public, can at least gain some satisfaction knowing that the fine folks spying on our Occupy protests from their DHS fusion centers feel as miserable and down and out as the rest of us. Maybe they should just join us after they finish beating us. 

Maybe their global satisfaction scores will improve if Jeh Johnson gives them cuddly global hacky-sacks to kick around during breaks from operating their Rapiscan machines at the airport.

Better yet, Congress might disband Homeland Security, declare the War on Terror over, take its multi-billion dollar budget and reallocate it for health care, education and infrastructure. Sad DHS workers would get retrained for other jobs -- say, as teachers and nurses and architects and construction workers.

But Jeh Johnson apparently likes his own job title, and is not giving up. The Boss is going to shove the morale down their throats whether they like it or not:
Johnson, who took over the sprawling domestic security agency in December 2013, pronounced himself “disappointed that our efforts to improve employee satisfaction at DHS were not reflected Department-wide in this year’s results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint survey. ”But the former Pentagon General Counsel said he was “not discouraged.” In a public statement and a department-wide email, he told employees that he and Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “will not give up.  We know that improving employee satisfaction across a 22-component, 240,000-person department takes time. ”
He proudly noted, moreover, that the people working in his own office are 85 percent globally satisfied with their jobs. Their jobs depend upon their satisfaction. Jeh Johnson is not about to allow any sad-sack hacks within an inch of his own joyful presence.

Monday, September 28, 2015

CBS vs. Social Security

Scott Pelley of CBS seemed just as flabbergasted at Donald Trump's vow to protect Social Security as he was at the candidate's vow to deport 11 million people and build a cheap but gorgeous border wall the likes of which you've never seen.

Here's the snippet of last night's 60 Minutes interview with Trump that you might have missed in all the frenzied back-and-forth between one billionaire and one media representative of many billionaires:
Scott Pelley: In your book, "The America We Deserve" you proposed raising the social security retirement age to 70. Is that still your plan?
Donald Trump: Yeah, not anymore because now what I want to do is take money back from other countries that are killing us and I want to save social security. And we're going to save it without increases. We're not going to raise the age and it will be just fine.
Scott Pelley: How are you going to do that? It is a basket case.
Donald Trump: Through capability. We will set it set it up by making our country rich again.
This is not the first time CBS has gone after Social Security. Although Pelley never bothered to back up his specious claim that our national retirement program is "a basket case," his network (and to be fair, the other five media conglomerates that control 90 percent of all publicly broadcast information in this country) have long hawked the same line that not only is the Social Security trust fund going broke, but the whole system is riddled with incompetence, fraud, and abuse.

Just last March, Pelley and CBS aired a hit job accusing the Social Security Administration of being so inept and evil that its flawed master list is composed of zombie hordes of dead people still collecting benefits, as well as living people who have falsely been declared dead. To bolster his case, Pelley dug up four fine, upstanding (and white ) taxpayers who had inadvertently made the Dead List. These fine people became subject to credit checks, Homeland Security terror watch lists and false arrests all because of some stupid New Deal entitlement program that Wall Street has a mean hankering to become entitled to.

Pelley implied that the clerical errors popping up every now and then within a database of about half a billion citizens were more than simple, rectifiable clerical errors. He implied that his "news" program came up with the mistakes based upon its own relentless digging and muckraking -- even though the occasional individual horror story about a Social Security mistake has been about as common as the inevitable clerical error. Moreover, one of the undead victims he showcased had already been slated to testify before a congressional Homeland Security panel made up of some of the same right-wing politicians who look for any excuse to cut benefits and raise the retirement age.

As Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote about that segment, Pelley's reactionary political agenda became all too clear when he never bothered to tell viewers how to rectify things should they ever find themselves wrongfully plunked on the Death List: 
The tax policy and regulatory expert David Cay Johnston further suggests that any institution using the DMF to make consumer decisions be automatically informed if a customer files a protest with Social Security and be made responsible for updating the information once Social Security makes its ruling, with stiff fines for delay or inaction. Any consumers who run into problems with banks or card issuers should have an absolute right to inspect the institution's DMF file on them, at no cost.
That should solve the problem for the relatively small percentage of people caught in this net. "60 Minutes" could have performed a real service by asking its sources in the Senate why Congress hasn't taken these steps in the six or seven years since news organizations started reporting on it.
Two years ago, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft (with the help of another right-wing zombie politician, Republican Tom Coburn) broadcast a particularly loathsome hit job on the alleged fraud and abuse within the Social Security disability benefits program. The gist of it was that a huge cabal of malingerers and corrupt doctors and lawyers are all in cahoots to bilk the taxpayers who actually contribute to society.  As a result, the whole disability system is a "basket case."

Although this 60 Minutes report was widely debunked and castigated at the time that it aired, it served its purpose. It planted the seed in the public's mind that sick and disabled people are a confederacy of fakers. It divides and conquers, setting up yet another front in the battle of the Makers vs. the Takers.

The contrived division between the Deserving Poor and the Undeserving Poor is as old as plutocracy itself. This deflects attention away from the undeserving rich, who derive most of their incomes from rents, interest, investments, the labor of the poor... and government welfare and deferred prosecution agreements.

Only four months before the disability hit job aired, Scott Pelley and CBS gave the unindicted Wall Street billionaire and "thought leader" Lloyd Blankfein a free platform from which to inform the masses that their "entitlements must be contained."

The smarmy Pelley was suitably awed and humbled as he was allowed into the man-cave of Goldman Sachs, gushing during the segment: "An interview with Lloyd Blankfein is as rare as a look inside the Goldman Sachs money machine. He showed us one of seven trading floors at his Manhattan headquarters. Goldman is one of America's most successful investment banks. It had net earnings of $4.4 billion dollars last year. When we asked Blankfein how to reduce the federal budget deficit, he went straight for the subject politicians don't want to talk about."
BLANKFEIN: You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations -- the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to -- they're not going to get it.
PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?
BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. ... So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
PELLEY: Because we can't afford them going forward?
BLANKFEIN: Because we can't afford them.
Notice the stark difference in tone between Pelley's interview with Trump (scolding, confrontational) and Blankfein (admiring, obsequious).

Actually, what we really can't afford are super-rich people like Lloyd Blankfein and groveling propagandists like Scott Pelley who swallow whole the specious claim that the undeserving hordes are retiring in their forties and living large on the Social Security dime.

Of course, Pelley operates neither independently nor in a vacuum. His continued employment as publicist for the elites hinges upon sucking up to the rich and powerful.

His own boss, CBS chief Les Moonves (net worth a mere $300 million) recently found himself in the awkward position of refusing to tip a parking valet at the birthday bash of his boss (billionaire Sumner Redstone) because all he had in his wallet were $100 bills. And guess who was forced to apologize for the awkwardness? The valet, of course. Because his continued employment as a servant paying into the Social Security trust fund depends upon how well he has mastered the fine art of groveling.

The racketeers of the ruling class ignore the reality that over the course of a lifetime, most people do become physically vulnerable. It's nature. It's called being human. It is called being a child. It is called getting sick or injured in early adulthood or middle age. It is called getting old. Yet CBS hacks and flacks and the oligarchs they serve  all selfishly ignore the reality that Social Security is a program that ordinary people have contributed to all their working lives. 

Contrary to all the Randian propaganda, the government safety net is not a handout or an entitlement. It is a basic human right. 

And Social Security is not broke. What the plutocrats are trying to break into pieces is the social contract itself. Social Security could be rendered solvent into perpetuity and benefits could be expanded if  wealth is taxed at the same rate as work. If Lloyd Blankfein and the Forbes 400 were required to pay FICA taxes on their entire incomes instead of just the first $100,000 or so, any minor shortfall problem could be solved within a New York minute.

"What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice a problem of riches." -- R.H. Tawney.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes

Dorothy who? the pundits asked after Pope Francis included Dorothy Day in his most admired quartet of US citizens in his speech to Congress. (the others are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and Thomas Merton.)

Having just briefly mentioned Dorothy Day myself in the blog comments the other day, I was pleased, but not at all surprised, to learn that the radical Pope is also a huge fan of the radical social justice crusader.

 She started her professional life in the early 20th century as a novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, intellectual, anarchist, muckraking  journalist, and feminist. She underwent one abortion and also gave birth to an out-of-wedlock child whom she raised as a single mother among the destitute and anguished and sometimes dangerous in various makeshift "hospitality houses" in New York City after her conversion to Catholicism at the eve of the Great Depression. She combined a more than half-century career in direct social work and pacifism and labor organizing and communal farming with the founding of the Catholic Worker movement and running its newspaper. She was often out of favor with the Catholic Church hierarchy and the political establishment, particularly when she opposed the USA's entry into World War Two. She was arrested and jailed numerous times after such acts of civil disobedience as draft card burnings and blockades of Selective Service buildings during the Vietnam war.

The Catholic Worker, published to this very day, is still anti-war in the age of public acquiescence to perpetual war. It still sells for only one penny per copy plus postage, or 25 cents for a year's subscription.

A compilation of personal diaries spanning Dorothy Day's career during the Catholic Worker movement years was recently published, after having been kept under wraps, at her own request, for 25 years following her death in 1980. She was far from a perfect person, and was the first to admit that she often felt like a shrew and a slattern. She suffered from bouts of depression. She was totally human. She is still eminently "relatable".

To give you an idea of the woman, I've gathered together several particularly striking passages from her diary, the book version of which is called The Duty of Delight from a quote by the great British critic and humanist John Ruskin. Compare Dorothy Day's writings to those of MLK, Pope Francis, Gandhi and other great moral leaders of the modern world, and you will see a very common thread of humanity and empathy that transcends dogma and denomination. A fire and brimstone, holier-than-thou control freak she definitely was not.

Her off-the-cuff 1930s Great Depression jottings are particularly apt for our own times:
"As I came down the street afterward, (from visiting a friend in jail) a well dressed priest drove by in a big car. Then I passed another - also well dressed, comfortable.... Then still another out in front of most luxurious mansion, the parish house, playing with a dog on a leash. All of them well fed, well housed, comfortable, caring for the safe people like themselves. And where are the priests for the poor, the down and out, the sick in city hospitals, in jails. It is the little of God's children who do not get cared for. God help them and God help the priest who is caught in the bourgeois system and cannot get out."  
"In this groaning of spirit everything is irksome to me. The dirt, the garbage heaped in the gutters, the flies, the hopelessness of the human beings around me, all oppress me." 
"Toothaches, bruised faces even, received in street fighting, are ugly and grotesque. It is hard to heroically receive blows in the face from a policeman, for instance, and take it like a Christian, in the spirit of non-resistance. A spirit of hatred and a fierce desire for retaliation seems more manly, more human. Moral force being hard to see, is a thousand times harder than physical force. Strength of spirit is not so often felt to be apparent as strength of body. And we in our vanity wish this strength to be apparent. Human respect again. And yet moral force is always felt."
"I was thinking afterward how everyone dwells on our poverty. But we are not nearly poor enough. Read Steinbeck's article on squatters in California. It is not enough to present a picture of conditions. One must go there to share that poverty. Then others will help. Immediate works of mercy shows what can be done now, not waiting for the revolution or for the state. Strip oneself here first. We are going to the bean fields this summer."
"I sat up late reading a detective story. Rather depressed at first what with dirty dishes, children, Mrs. B (a complaining client) and general effusiveness.... The poor. To love to be with the poor is of course hard. There are not all poor among us, and only one poor family. Of course, dirt, inefficiency, dullness, lack of taste, beauty, culture - all these are a part of poverty. Are they poor because of this lack in them, or do these characteristics grow out of their poverty? Who can say? It will be hard to change them because we are poor now ourselves. Are we letting it get us? Are there those among us who are becoming dull, dirty, lethargic, listless, indolent, slothful?"
As Robert Ellsberg, the editor of her diaries, writes in the introduction,
Dorothy Day's life at the Catholic Worker was marked by a number of remarkable episodes, and she was a witness or participant in many of the most significant social movements of the 20th century. But by and large, her life was spent in very ordinary ways. Her sanctity -- if one wishes to call it that -- was expressed not just in heroic deeds but also in the mundane duties of everyday life. Her 'spirituality' was rooted in a constant effort to be more charitable toward those closest at hand.
A prisoner rights advocate and a staunch opponent of racism, Dorothy Day would have been right at home in today's social justice movements. She would also be against the man-made pollution causing climate change and the war on terror with its transformation of the world into a permanent battlefield. She would have been right up there with the only non-applause line in Pope Francis's speech to Congress:
Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An Inconvenient Pope

Corporate media coverage of the Pope's visit to the USA is being framed around two main issues: how it will impact the artificial, wedge issue-based political gridlock in Washington, and how it will cause traffic gridlock in New York City.

News that the world's second largest car maker has engaged in an epic criminal conspiracy to bypass anti-pollution emissions laws is vying with news about how much cars themselves will be inconvenienced during this historic visit. For days on end, traffic and shopping will come to a screeching halt. The very atmosphere will be forced to take a breather. For one brief shining moment, the rights of humans to walk will take precedence over the rights of machines to drive.

I'm sure that all the rich irony surrounding his visit to El Norte is not being lost on Pope Francis.

His message that turbo-charged capitalism is destroying all living things on land, sea and air is being drowned in the American shallows of media spectacle for the sake of media spectacle. As he wrote in his recent encyclical:
The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called "rapidification." Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.
So, who did Barack and Michelle invite to their White House reception? Who will she be wearing? Will she "stun" as she greets the Pope at the airport? Will LGBT  activists and right-to-die reformers be given front row seats on the South Lawn just so that President Peace Prize can one-up the Pope in progressive bona fides? How will stocks react as the Pope shuts down entire miles of Big Apple asphalt?  What's the price of a scalped ticket to get close to him as he parades through Central Park? How many scents of Pope Soap-on-a-Rope are available at Macy's? Is the Pope Catholic?

Even when more enlightened media outlets dare to "go there" and write in-depth pieces about the Pope's environmental and social justice messages, unbridled capitalism still gets in the way. When I went to read an online article about his exhortation Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home at the New York Review of Books, the very first thing confronting me was an ad exhorting me to purchase a custom-framed cartoon drawing of Pope Francis for $150.

The reviewer, Yale climate economist William D. Nordhaus, is not only disappointed that Francis's core message is being ignored by the media, he is disappointed that the Pope himself is against market-based "cap and trade" and other gimmicks to supplement his anti-consumerism message of environmental conservation and care for the poor. The Pope is not neoliberal enough, apparently. All that the climate needs, according to Nordhaus, is a more "moral market"  -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. He writes:
But the growing peril of climate change and many other environmental problems arises primarily not from unethical individual behavior such as consumerism or cowardice, bad conscience or excessive profiteering. Rather, environmental degradation is the result of distorted market signals that put too low a price on harmful environmental effects.
I guess that Nordhaus missed the news that Volkswagen's altruism and beneficence caused it to deliberately tinker with the pollution-detecting device in at least half a million 11 million of its cars. Those market distortion signals will get you every time. Mistakes get made, but crimes against the biosphere are never committed.

"We have totally screwed up," the aptly named Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen of America, humble-bragged at a lavish event this week to introduce the company's latest model. He offered the standard explanation given by the rich and powerful and unaccountable whenever they get caught doing the nasty. The crime "was not consistent with our core values," he abjectly schmoozed.

After all, it pales in comparison to Volkswagen admitting decades after the fact that it had used Nazi concentration camp slaves to manufacture its cars for the Folk. Luckily for them, no car officials went to jail for that one. All they had to do was to make some token reparations to their mainly Jewish victims. So they probably hope that this latest scandal will be swept under the rug just as efficiently.

The real test of our political class's seriousness about reducing global warming and combating climate change is how it will treat the Volkswagen crimes. If the company gets the usual financial slap on the wrist, as General Motors recently did despite their officials being, at the very least, accessories to murder, our government officials will have proven themselves irredeemable hypocrites, once and for all.

As the Pope's late, great fellow Latin American leftist Eduardo Galeano put it, the United States is the Vatican of the Church of the Sacred Car. And the depraved religion has spread all over the globe. "The imported faith in the four-wheeled god and the confusion of democracy with consumption have been more devastating than any bombing campaign. Never have so many suffered so much for so few," he wrote in Upside Down.
In Nordhaus's neoliberal view, meanwhile, the problem is not that water is scarce. It's that it is underpriced. The problem is not the number of polluting particulates in the air that we breathe and the ensuing damage to our lungs. It is that the poisons are underpriced. What this planet, and the people and animals and plants residing on it need is not health and conservation of resources and clean-up. What it needs are plutocrats making more money by finding more efficient ways to use their poisons.

Pope Francis has his work cut out for him with such thinking from the allegedly enlightened side of the climate "debate." (Yes, the media conglomerate is still framing the death of the earth as a debate instead of a reality.)

As he puts it in his encyclical, "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions. We need a new and universal solidarity." 

Meanwhile, even though Laudato Si' is readily available free of charge all over the Internet, billionaire Jeff Bezos is charging people $5.95 to download a Kindle copy from his own Amazon website marketplace. Because the rich rentiers will always parasitize the poor. Commodified humanity is their main course.

We all have got our work cut out for us.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Life In The O-Zone

Regular readers know that I always refer to President Obama's weekly addresses as his "dog whistles to Wall Street." Never has his purpose been made more abundantly clear than in today's edition. The theme and tone of his spiel to the ostensible public were eerily similar to his congratulatory pep talk to the oligarchs of the Business Roundtable (BRT) earlier in the week.

Let's compare and contrast the two speeches.

 First, there's the sickly-sweet opening salvo of today's address to Regular Joe and Jane, struggling (if they are really lucky) to get by on stagnating wages and precarious employment, as the top .01 percent have sucked up more than 90% of the wealth regained in the seven years since the financial collapse. Obama praises the plebs for having the good grace to be crushed by capitalism and then urges them to pretend that they are co-owners of its cancerous progress:

Hi, everybody.  It’s hard to believe, but it was seven years ago this week that one of Wall Street’s biggest investment banks went bankrupt, triggering a meltdown on Wall Street and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  And in the months that followed, millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, and the savings they’d worked so hard to build.
Today’s a different story.  Over the past five and a half years, our businesses have created more than 13 million new jobs.  The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in over seven years.  Manufacturing is growing.  Housing is bouncing back.  We’ve reduced our deficits by two-thirds.  And 16 million more Americans now know the security of health insurance. 
This is your progress.  It’s because of your hard work and sacrifice that America has come back from crisis faster than almost every other advanced nation on Earth.  We remain the safest, strongest bet in the world.
 Of course, you might not know all that if you only listened to the bluster of political season, when it’s in the interest of some politicians to paint America as dark and depressing as possible.  But I don’t see it that way.  I’ve met too many Americans who prove, day in and day out, that this is a place where anything is possible.  Yes, we have a lot of work to do to rebuild a middle class that’s had the odds stacked against it now for decades.  That’s the thing about America – our work is never finished.  We always strive to be better – to perfect ourselves.
Now, here's how he truckled to the top .01 percent: the billionaires and CEOs of the most powerful multinational lobby in the world (i.e., the Permanent Ruling Class) on Wednesday: 

 Seven years ago today was one of the worst days in the history of our economy.  If you picked up the Wall Street Journal that morning, you read that the shocks from AIG and Lehman were spreading worldwide.  The day before, stocks had suffered their worst loss since 9/11.  In the months after, businesses would go bankrupt, millions of Americans would lose their jobs and their homes, and our economy would reach the brink of collapse.  
That’s where we were when I became chief executive.  Here’s where we are today:  Businesses like yours have created more than 13 million new jobs over the past 66 months -– the longest streak of job growth on record.  The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in over seven years.  There are more job openings right now than at any time in our history.  Housing has bounced back.  Household wealth is higher than it was before the recession.  We have made enormous strides in both traditional energy sources and clean energy sources while reducing our carbon emissions.  And our education system is actually making significant progress with significant gains in reducing the dropout rate, reading scores increasing, math scores increasing.  And, by the way, more than 16 million people have health insurance that didn’t have it before.
So this progress is a testament to American business and innovation.  It’s a testament to the workers that you employ.  But I’m going to take a little credit, too.  It’s a testament to some good policy decisions.  Soon after we took office, we passed the Recovery Act, rescued our auto industry, worked to rebuild our economy.....(yada yada yada: read the whole mutual masturbatory thing if you haven't eaten recently.)
Very similar words in the two speeches, and yet how very differently nuanced. To regular people, Obama is their president, and "progress" belongs to them. To CEOs, he is their Chief Executive, or if you want to be truthful, their Chief Operating Officer. Progress belongs to them. Both the sacrificial lambs and the high priests of finance are part of the same American family living in the O-Zone. In Obama's centrist world, everybody deserves the credit and nobody bears any blame. Especially Obama, who tellingly refers to himself as the royal "we" in his cozy confab with the Masters of the Universe. As he boasted to the bankers back in 2009, he has been the only thing standing between them and the pitchfork-wielding rabble.

 As far as regular unwitting Joe and Jane should be concerned, once upon a time a bank suddenly went kaput for no apparent reason and without any deliberate criminal malfeasance by anyone. And then the poor shlubs, the collateral damage, lost everything. Just as miraculously, everything is now A-OK in the O-Zone. Everybody bounced back. Obama unbelievably credits the plutocrats for the pretend rescue of Regular Joe and Jane! He doesn't mention that 33 million people still lack basic health insurance, that the poverty rate is getting worse, and that the recovered jobs are not identical in either salary or security to the ones that were lost, never to return.

The subtext of today's lecture to Regular Joe and Jane is this: if you haven't bounced right back with the help of wealthy people and corporations, then you obviously didn't work hard enough and sacrifice enough. The "folks" that Obama claims to meet on his frenetic, polluting, carbon-spewing, criss-crossing, double-crossing political junkets in Air Force One are all successful entrepreneurs who lifted themselves up by their own bootstraps. Therefore, if you're still stuck on the couch, feeling depressed and poor, your mood is the result not of reality, but of Republicans spreading doom and gloom throughout this great wonderful land of ours. So chin up, Amurkey!

The oligarchs of the O-Zone are never inconvenienced, never shamed, never blamed. The seven-year statute of limitations on their high crimes and misdemeanors has run out. And even when it hasn't, as in the case of the General Motors ignition switch deaths, those responsible are not being held responsible. They're getting kissed with the usual paltry fine (refundable via those tax breaks, forced union concessions and pension-gutting) and an admonishment to behave nicely in the future. If Regular Joe or Jane is dead or maimed because of their shoddy workmanship and an ensuing criminal cover-up, then that is too bad. Because as Vice President Joe Biden constantly brays,"Osama is dead, and General Motors is alive!"

 Obama does not once mention the term "wealth inequality" in either of his speeches. As a matter of fact, that term was permanently banned from his lexicon after a brief tryout last year.  He is not about to bite the plutocratic hand that has, does, and will continue to feed him handsomely.

The president still commiserates over the pain that temporarily winced the super-rich when the Market crashed seven years ago this month. Unlike clueless Regular Joe and Jane, the rich were forced to read all about the crash they caused in the Wall Street Journal. Obama proclaims it as one of the worst days in the history of "our" economy. But, now that they have fully recovered, they can pat themselves on the back as they kick everybody else in the backside.

"Household wealth," Obama braggingly gushed to the BRT fat cats this week, "is higher than it was before the recession."

Of course it is... for the households of the BRT and the Forbes 400 billionaires. As a matter of fact, America's richest families have sucked up virtually all the wealth regained in "their" recovery, profiting obscenely in the Obama years at the expense of Joe and Jane:

The top 10 percent now hold more than 84 percent of the nation's household wealth, with the Joes and Janes in the bottom half trying to make do with a shockingly meager 0.8 percent of the share:

The racial wealth gap is at its widest since Reagan-era 1989, then got artificially depressed during the Clinton-Bush era subprime mortgage/deregulation bubble, then started increasing again after the stimulus ran out and bipartisan austerity was enacted with Obama's full urging and cooperation in the wake of the 2010 House GOP rout. Now, white families own on average 13 times as much wealth as black families:

 I don't know what world Obama is living in, but it certainly isn't ours. The manufacture of an alternate reality is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It's a parallel universe inhabited by the rich and the powerful who own the politicians of both establishment parties.

Facts are stubborn things, as are the liars who deny reality. The O-Zone inhabited by the current White House occupant is the immoral equivalent of the Stand Your Ground law, itself the creation of the same multinationals and oligarchs that the neoliberal Obama so cloyingly serves.

Social psychologist Leon Festinger, the father of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, puts it best:
"Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart. Suppose he is then presented with unequivocal and undeniable evidence that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting people."
Obama is such a true believer in the Market as the cure for what ails us, rather than the disease that threatens to kill us, that he rashly told the plutocrats at the BRT that he will complete the corporate coup known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the year. His vow of fealty to the plundering multinationals:
There are going to be unprecedented protections for labor standards and environmental standards, but also for IP protection, also for making sure that when any company here makes an investment, that they’re not being disadvantaged but are instead being treated like domestic companies for commercial purposes.

And so the notion here is, is that we’ve got 11 nations who represent the fastest-growing, most populous part of the world buying into a high-standards trade deal that allows us and your companies on a consistent basis to compete.
This was a not-so-veiled reference to Investor State Dispute Tribunals, in which a corporation replaces a sovereign judicial system to rule, mainly in secret, for the rights of corporations over the rights of citizens. Big Tobacco, for example, would have the right to run roughshod over laws which prevent sales of cigarettes to children in countries like Malaysia. The poor would have to fork over any alleged profit losses to the billionaires being thwarted in their desire to kill poor children with their poisons.

The word "investment" as used by Obama and the rest of the elite political class is simply a euphemism for wealth extraction and plunder. Investment is a means  for the rich to get richer off the labor and assets of the poor and working classes. It is not only criminal. It is a form of insanity.

And as all too scarily evidenced by the other night's marathon performance by the GOP candidates vying to replace Obama in the White House, psychopathy has not only gone mainstream, it is viewed as a necessary tool for the survival of the richest and all those who serve them.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Occupy Turns Four

To mark the occasion of the Occupy Wall Street movement's fourth birthday,  various #TakeBackOurCommunity and "days of action" against racism, gentrification and police brutality are being held throughout the city and country today. A 5 p.m. rally is planned at New York City's Zuccotti Park, site of the original OWS encampment.

Despite the rumors mongered by the corporate press of its utter demise, and despite an orchestrated national crackdown on the camps in the fall of 2011, the Occupy movement is alive and well in its various offshoots, such as Occupy Our Homes and Occupy Sandy and Occupy Media. OWS is still fighting the police in lawsuits charging false arrests and brutality.  It definitely lives on in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, who uses unabashed OWS rhetoric in his stump speeches. Were it not for the Occupy movement, the concept of the 99 percent never would have been part of the national lexicon.

Charles Lenchner, an OWS "techie" who used his expertise during the original uprising four years ago to spread the message through websites and social media, told The Guardian that the rise of Bernie Sanders would have been inconceivable without the Occupy movement. He now runs "People for Bernie Sanders," which is unconnected with the official campaign.

Pundits loved to criticize OWS for being a leaderless movement. But as Martin Breaugh recounts in The Plebeian Experience, the lack of leaders in popular uprisings has been par for the course throughout history. The original Roman plebs who seceded to the Aventine Hill outside the city never elected a "leader," but succeeded in their goal of representation in the legislature. The Sans-Culottes of the French Revolution, the Communards of Paris and the English Jacobins all were eventually crushed, but they have left lasting traces. On the rare occasions that movements comprised of street people have become co-opted by a leader or a political party (the Ciompi revolt in Renaissance Italy, for example) the original purpose tends to either fizzle out or get watered down, and the designated "leader" does not last very long. The desire for a leader is nothing less than a desire for servitude and a relinquishment of one's own political agency to another.

To his credit, Bernie Sanders constantly cautions that his run for the presidency is not about him. He acknowledges he is but a part of a "revolution." Of course, Barack Obama and his "change we can believe in" slogan broadcast much the same thing. He also readily admitted that he was a "blank slate" upon which we could pin our hopes and dreams. Sanders is anything but a blank slate.

Although leaderless plebeian movements like Occupy have historically been short-lived and physically crushed by the powers that be, their memory is persistent, and their spirits tend to infuse subsequent movements, writes Breaugh. Seeds get planted. The exploitation of the many by the few is rejected. People are educated to become more open to internal dissent and more accepting of  "otherness." The concept that citizenship that goes beyond the periodic voting for "representatives" becomes widespread.

"Despite its tragic nature," writes Breaugh, "the plebeian experience leaves its mark and resonates for others who will be subjected to the same political domination in the future. Its relative brevity does not prevent it from inaugurating a discontinuous history of political freedom."

Happy Birthday, and Vive L' Occupy!

De Bait Nite: The Hangover

If you want a blow-by-blow account of last night's GOP whatever-it-was, you have come to the wrong place.  Yes, I kept the TV tuned in to all five-plus hours of it, even the Pee Wee wrestling match intro featuring canned survival food-seller Rick Santorum and a few others whose names escape me at the moment. 

But I took readers' advice and read a book about how we can't afford rich people at the same time as I semi-watched the debate. I also played a few games of Bejewelled on the iPad and mentally interposed the exploding gems with the heads on the stage in a futile effort to stay riveted.

I knew that I had to indulge in a couple of survival skills when CNN commentator Brooke Baldwin referred to the Reagan Library as "hallowed ground," and Wolf Blitzer rudely interrupted a relatively intelligent point Anderson Cooper was trying to make to announce that Donald Trump had just exited his limo and was entering the building.

There's got to be a morning after, and truth be told, only a few memories remain. (If you thought I'd be taking notes on the show, think again.)

Some highlights:

Jeb Bush thinks brother George kept us safe. He also wants to put Margaret Thatcher's mug on the $10 bill. Donald Trump did not make any disparaging remarks about Maggie's mug, nor that of any other female for that matter. 

Carly Fiorina makes Hillary Clinton actually look like the Mother Teresa her campaign team is trying to market to the voters. Fiorina never smiles. She looks directly at the camera as she calls for mass killings of people for the sake of her personal friend, Bibi.

Although Donald Trump didn't make fun of the looks of any female, it sure looks like the GOP cohort still stands united in its hatred of all women and its fetishistic defense of fetal parts, which apparently are being sold on the open market right next to the breakfast cereal.

As one of the few people on the stage who don't have blood on their hands due to the wars they voted for, Donald Trump may still have effectively condemned thousands or even millions of people to death with his off-the-cuff remark that the baby of one of his employees developed autism overnight after receiving vaccinations. 

Ben Carson, M.D., allowed that Trump might have a point about getting too many vaccines at once, but advised him to do further reading. Carson sounded like he whiffed a huge dollop of ether before coming onstage.

Jeb Bush admits that he smoked dope while a preppie and apologized to Mom Babs for his perfidy. He didn't apologize to his mom for not nominating her mug for the $10 bill. Ben Carson nominated his mom, and so did a few others whose names escape me. A few even went totally socialistic and nominated Rosa Parks.

Mike Huckabee, whose only platforms are anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, praised the polio vaccine. He was apparently unaware that the first polio vaccine was developed with the help of fetal tissue research.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

De Bait Nite

Something weird has been happening lately over at already-weird CNN. It's gone from being the War On Terror propaganda network to being the War For Terror propaganda network. It's morphed from scaring people about ISIS creeping across the borders to murder us all in our beds to thrilling people about Donald Trump creeping into all of our beds by way of his relentless presence on our video screens. 

Even the terror promos are eerily similar, right down to the drumbeat-heavy Doomsday soundtracks. When you don't see Jihadi John glaring at you, you see Donald Trump glaring at you. There's even a countdown clock to make it even scarier.

If you happen to watch tonight's debate from the alleged safety of your bed, you will probably watch the dumbness oxymoronically streamed over your smart device. I don't think this has anything to do with Trump being easier to take on a smaller tablet than on an over-sized wall screen. And it's not just the false sense of security you feel from cowering under the covers as you clutch your gizmo. I think it has to do with the convenience of being able to click back and forth from watching the festivities to checking out the various live analyses of the festivities. It is incumbent upon you to compare your reactions to those of the corporate pundits also watching in unreal time. Do you believe your own lying ears that these clowns are sociopaths, or do you trust the experts telling you that Donald Trump is semantically winning by a landslide, and that hurling vitriolic word salads is tantamount to an intellectual zinger of historic proportions?

Even if you have intelligently cut your cable cord to protest both the outlandish price and the outlandish content, CNN is generously providing tonight's show for "free" over the Internet, waiving the usual fees and sign-up rigmarole:
The cable network announced it will lift that paywall from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. the night of the debate and feature the live stream on its homepage. The move is meant to "showcase the value of 'TV Everywhere'" — the name CNN gives to its streaming service. 
CNN's Andrew Morse, who heads the network's editorial operations in the United States, told Mashable the company is banking on giving its streaming feature more exposure. He told the website CNN is not concerned about losing ratings, because he believes people with a cable subscription will continue watching on traditional TV. 
"I think if you have a TV and you're sitting in front of a TV and you have a cable subscription, you're going to watch the debate on TV," he said. "If you don't happen to be sitting in front of the TV, it's historic moment that we think people are going to seek out."
If I do take the hyped-up bait and watch the "debate," I will probably view it on regular TV. (Month after month, I've been swearing that this is the month I'll finally cancel cable. And then every month some event makes me change my mind. This month, it is the Pope's visit. My "provider," Time-Warner, is even adding a special Pope Channel to bait me as a continuing customer. And I am ashamed to admit that I am taking de bait.) Of course, whenever I watch "the news" I do so while obsessively playing Bejewelled on my iPad. My attention span is shot to shit by all the smart devices littering up my life. I suspect that I am not alone.

CNN knows this, and is hyping up the debate for all it is worth. And it is worth many, many, many billions of dollars. The cable outlet is reportedly charging 40 times its normal rates for ads running during the debate. A 30-second spot usually costing $5,000 will go for $200,000 tonight. Not quite Super Bowl territory, but getting there.

Jake Tapper (whose adenoidal delivery always makes me want to rip my cable cord right out of the wall) is the lead moderator of tonight's extravaganza. He admits that he is more interested in sparking a fight among the contenders than in holding their feet to the fire. 

Not for nothing have I been referring to the Eternal Campaign of Cluttered Mindlessness as "Neoliberal Death Match" over these many months. As the L.A. Times' Steven Battaglio writes,
 If the commercials promoting CNN's Republican primary debate Wednesday make it look like a highly anticipated pay-per-view boxing event, it means they're working.
"That was the idea," CNN President Jeff Zucker said last week. "This is Round 2 of a heavyweight bout."
Or the second episode of a wildly successful hit show. CNN anticipates its largest audience ever when Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and nine other contenders meet Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. It would achieve that plateau by getting 75% of the 24 million viewers who watched the first GOP debate of the 2016 presidential race on the Fox News Channel on Aug. 6, the surprise must-see TV event of the summer.
And from the New York Times:
 “Jake Tapper is going to do whatever he can to get the candidates to go after each other,” said a strategist advising one of the candidates, who declined to be named delivering what could be seen as a criticism of the network. “If somebody is knocked out, CNN will be happy. In the first debate, the moderators controlled the candidates; in this debate, the candidates will have to moderate themselves.”
 Though the moderators say they will look for opportunities to let the candidates interact, they may have to tread carefully to avoid appearing as instigators. The network garnered some criticism in 2012 for its handling of several memorable debate moments.
The piece refers back to John King baiting Newt Gingrich on his history of marital difficulties, and Candy Crowley fact-checking Mitt Romney in unreal time. No mention is made of the fact that the two Green Party candidates were prevented from creating a real ruckus during one Rombama Show by being handcuffed to chairs at an undisclosed police location so that the staged theatrics could continue without actual democracy cluttering up the script.

Although CNN apparatchiks insist that their version of Neoliberal Death Match will be more staid than the sports arena venue of the last bout, tonight will be every bit as much of an unreality show:  
A CNN construction crew also built, from scratch, the elaborate scaffolding that elevates the debate stage to eye level with Reagan’s Air Force One, adding grandeur and history to the already striking backdrop.
It will be Mr. Tapper’s first time moderating a presidential debate. Just days before the event, Mr. Tapper appeared relaxed and confident as he took a break from the preparations.
But, he admitted, part of the thrill of the debate is that even he, scripted questions and all, does not know what will happen.
“It’s difficult to control my 5-year-old son,” Mr. Tapper said with a half-laugh, “much less a 55-year-old governor who thinks he should be ruler of the planet.”
Hehehehehe. Grandeur, meet surrealism. History, meet comedy.

David Uberti of the Columbia Journalism Review is not amused:
The framing is mystifying at best. Trump’s spontaneity and vulgarity make him more compelling than his counterparts in the GOP race, to the point that CNN’s own journalists have openly remarked about the glut of media coverage. Trump’s politics-as-entertainment is inherent to his campaign. But rather than holding an important discussion that happens also to be captivating, CNN’s pre-debate promotions have openly framed Wednesday’s contest as entertainment. They are fueling an already out-of-control wildfire: The debate is not just a live event to highlight differences between presidential contenders, but rather a title fight between Trump and the world.
As Nan Socolow so pithily responded in her comment on the New York Times article,
A cluster of dunces up there tomorrow night on the wannabe POTUS Second Republican Debate stage - provided by CNN with The Gipper's Boeing Air Force One the backdrop of the "intimate" venue, adding "grandeur and history" to the Second Two-Tiered GOP Primary Debate of this campaign 2016. As we recall the monumental goofs and memorable moments of previous Republican debates, we will be looking forward to a few of the candidates falling into the California tar pits of also-rans tomorrow night. This is the pinnacle of American tragicomedy. Fifteen Conservative Tea Party declared candidates bashing each other like sock-puppets delivering sound bytes to one another for a couple of hours while the American couch potato heads scarf down doritos, cheez-doodles and other finger-lickin' good junk snax, washed down with neon colored sodas and faux waters in plastic bottles. It is - as first-time Presidential Debate moderator Jake Tapper avowed - thrilling that we don't know what will happen. Maybe there will be a "you're no Jack Kennedy" moment. Maybe an explosion or implosion of a few leading contenders. This is high drama among the Republicans and we have no idea when the first of the primary debates on the Democratic side will occur. CNN is the dubious beneficiary of this "combative spirit". What about all the Americans who can't afford cable-tv? How will they receive the news of tomorrow night's debate? Maybe they have more worries in their lives than the Debate Watchers.
Just be careful not to wet the bed with your fake bottled water as you watch the schlock horror. Also watch out for Dorito breath and telltale orange fingerprints on your touch screen. Be especially wary of stray popcorn kernels. Those things are even deadlier than terrorists bearing knives and the political/media knaves selling them.

Monday, September 14, 2015

All Politics Is Global

The destructive politics and policies of global turbo-capitalism are coming home to roost.

The spirit of Tahrir Square and the worldwide Occupy movement has been captured in the rise of the Syriza and Podemos parties, and most lately made manifest in the Labour Party victory of the socialist Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain and the rise in the polls of liberal independent Bernie Sanders in the United States.

And don't forget the global moral and political influence of Pope Francis, soon to set foot on our shores to deliver a powerful and well-deserved kick to the Neoliberal Project's well-padded ass.

The old saw that all politics is local still holds true, of course, as long as you define "local" in the grotesque, flat-earthish Thomas Friedman way. People the wide world over are delivering stinging rebukes, with varying success, to the scourge of globalization.

By a nearly half million vote margin, the members of the Labour Party handed a huge victory to Jeremy Corbyn, who the socialist writer Tariq Ali has described as his party's "most left-wing leader ever." He explains,
The Thatcherite Blair/Brown twins agreed to share power thus creating two power-hungry factions with no political differences except that Tony Blair hungered for both power and money. He gave us the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, while Gordon Brown was oblivious to the vulnerabilities of financialised capitalism and spent billions of taxpayers’ money bailing out banks that might have (after paying the depositors) been best left to croak. Both bureaucratised the Labour Party by neutering the party conference, reducing it to a tacky version of the US Democrats. All show, no substance. They denuded constituency Labour parties of the right to select their own prospective parliamentary candidates. This was the only way they could transform a large chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) into a collection of over-promoted office boys and girls together with bandwagon careerists.
It's only a short hop, in this age of globalization, from the canyons of Wall Street to the City of London. Obama political operative Jim Messina, who currently helps run the Hillary Clinton campaign, was also instrumental in the re-election of austerian British P.M. David Cameron. Neoliberalism, just like the money it worships, knows no national boundaries, either geographically or politically.

The people of Great Britain are rejecting what is known as Blairism, the ideological twin of "New Democrat" Clintonism. This direct offshoot of Reaganism/Thatcherism purported to soften the right-wing nihilism of the Neocons and Randians by adding a thin patina of "social responsibility" to the global greed agenda. 

As Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy lay out in Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and Democratic President Bill Clinton closely collaborated on a kinder, gentler version of supply side, trickle-down economics: what the authors call the "second wave" of neoliberalism, which still continues under the plutocrat-friendly regimes of Cameron and Obama. This is Reaganism/Thatcherism rendered palatable for public relations purposes through a more socially progressive agenda. It is still rule by the Market, but rule by the Market with government programs to boost "individual entrepreneurship." It still promotes selfishness, but with the higher purpose of selling selfishness as a universal right. (What Obama and other New Dems tackily call aspirational "ladders of opportunity" and "a level playing field.")

Steger and Roy write,
(Blair and Clinton) hoped that their "purified" product - a socially conscious market globalism - would propel the entire world toward a new golden age of technological progress and prosperity. Such "modernized" second-wave neoliberalism had a tremendous impact on the political landscape of the post-communist 1990s.... United in their approach to liberalize trade relations and integrate national economies into a single global market, Clinton and Blair would eventually take credit for the "Roaring Nineties" - a decade of economic boom.
Thanks to the deregulation of global finance and the job-destroying, wage-suppressing corporate coups disguised as free trade deals, the bubble burst all over the world. Only the oligarchs recovered. Of the trillions of dollars in household wealth lost in the Great Collapse of 2008, the top One Percent glommed up more than 90 percent of the recovery.

 Cornyn's victory is a resounding popular rejection of Third Way neoliberalism, or Blairism, possibly to be paralleled here in the US by a Democratic primary rejection of Clintonite Hillary.

It's a rejection of the pernicious globalization that won't rest until it destroys the planet and all the living things that dwell on it. The voters have repudiated the flim-flam notion that the endless growth of capitalism, even growth tempered by what centrists call "social responsibility," is just what the doctor ordered. They have just said nada to the record wealth inequality engendered by the cancer of neoliberalism. They have said No Mas to too big to fail and jail banks getting bailed out, and regular people getting screwed.

Since Blairism and Clintonism are veritable ideological twins, I think it's safe to say that the Corbyn victory is also coming soon to an American theater near you. It's called Feeling the Bern. (It has been delayed by about seven years, due to the mass hypnosis inflicted upon voters by Barack Obama, who ran on a brilliantly phony populist platform and then governed like a neoliberal on steroids. To paraphrase Tariq Ali, he is the very essence of All Show, No Substance.)

Of course, given the entrenched deep state comprising the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSA and all the other shadow agencies we know little to nothing about, a total rejection of corporatism will be much harder to accomplish here in the One Exceptional Nation. It is Jeremy Corbyn, with his anti-war, anti-imperialism stance, who puts the real social back into socialism.

The plutocracy and the mass media owned by it are trying to discredit Corbyn just as they are trying to discredit Bernie Sanders here. But there is no turning back the global populist rejection of neoliberalism.

People are too sick and tired to just lay down and take it anymore.

Whether politicians like Corbyn and Sanders bear out the "pendulum theory" of self-correcting politics, and pull their respective nations back from the abyss, remains to be seen. The power of the national security state and the war machine and the oligarchy and the media stenographers may make a true reversal next to impossible.

 Sanders, who recently acknowledged that he would continue Obama's drone assassination policy and war on terror, is a hawk in comparison to the pacifistic Corbyn.

 And then, there's always the distinct possibility that American voters will reject the ill-effects of neoliberalism by voting for Donald Trump over Sanders, should he become the nominee.

As Morris Berman pessimistically wrote in Dark Ages America,
Given the emptiness, alienation, violence and ignorance that are now pervasive in this country, it is hard to imagine where a recovery would come from. The self-correction theory is at least partly based on the popular reaction of an informed citizenry. In this regard, the nature of the American populace today is not a source of inspiration or hope." 
(Needless to say, the New York Times trashed Berman's book for its "grumpy-lefty" Bernie-esque exposure of American dysfunction. This was in 2006, back when the Times was still championing the Iraq War and all things exceptionally American. This was back when torture was still "enhanced interrogation". Reviewer Mitoko Rich thought it terribly unpatriotic of Berman to not only question George Bush's motives, but to postulate that 9/11 constituted blowback against American imperialism. Fast forward to Perpetual Presidential Campaign substituting for substance, and I think we can agree that nothing has changed at the Grey Lady, or even worse, at the anti-Corbyn empire known as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

I'll say this, though. Can you imagine anything more pessimistic and depressing than Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush leading in the polls right now? Can you imagine if the last Pope hadn't resigned and we didn't have Francis around to condemn unbridled capitalism as "the dung of the devil?"

 I will take my crumbs of Enlightenment optimism wherever I can find them. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Revolting Stuff at the Grey Lady

If you've been following the readers' comment sections of the New York Times lately, particularly those on the Public Editor's page, you'll have noticed a mass outpouring of complaints critical of the paper's Bernie Sanders coverage. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to a spontaneous intellectual revolt against a major newspaper by the reading public.

The reader complaints are essentially twofold: the Times coverage of the Sanders campaign, compared to that of Trump and Clinton and Bush, has been scanty, buried deep within the inner pages of the newspaper; and, that the rare examples of prominent coverage have been derisive and/or dismissive, caricaturing Sanders as a wild-haired socialist who cannot possibly win the Democratic nomination. (regular Times commenter Rima Regas has compiled a pretty comprehensive, well-sourced overview.)

So, at the request of Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, newly-appointed political editor Carolyn Ryan has finally responded to the accusations, saying that while she "respects the passion of the Sanders supporters," she thinks they may be overlooking much of the coverage.

Right off the bat, Ryan mischaracterizes the complainers as Sanders supporters.  Although many of them are, this has nothing to do with cheerleading for a candidate. This has to do with how the largest news organization in the world is falling down on the job, failing in its duty of basic journalistic integrity.

Ryan provides a laundry list of every Grey Lady Sanders article ever written, without noting the placement and without comparing the volume to pieces on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which have been, by the paper's own admission, much more numerous. Ryan concludes,
​The Sanders campaign stands out, in my experience, for its fervent energy and organization. But one of the​ strategies of ​Sanders supporters is to ​relentless​ly​ agitat​e ​for more ​​favorable​ coverage​ ​from The Times and other outlets. ​
 We are mindful of their critiques and listen to ​their concerns, and often point out stories to them that they have overlooked.But ultimately we have to use our journalistic judgment​ and serve a broad readership​, by cover​ing​ the entire field of candidates, and not ma​k​e decisions in response to lobbying campaigns.I’m puzzled by the tone complaints and I cannot say that I agree with them.
 The reader responses to her response were pretty much as you'd expect. Here's mine:
Carolyn Ryan's response is the gold standard for whenever hoi polloi dare to complain. She chides us for our "tone," and caricatures us as a mob of Sandernistas who don't recognize quality and fairness when we see it.
She could have just boiled it down to "harrumph!"

Silly me, not to appreciate that the NYT has captured first, foremost and better than anybody else what it considers to be the "essence" of Bernie Sanders. It reminds me of David Brooks's response when readers complained about his use of the word "mutts" to describe bi-racial and multi-ethnic people. In essence, it was more feigned befuddlement coupled with advice to get over ourselves.

It's like the response of TV critic Alessandra Stanley when readers reacted negatively to her characterization of Shonda Rhimes as "an angry black woman." (Stanley was just being "arch" and if readers didn't get her irony and wit, then too bad.) 

Carolyn Ryan has just cringingly described her campaign reporters as her elite stable of "thoroughbreds." No surprise therefore that she seems to view those complaining about the Bernie Sanders coverage as a bunch of nags. Not a whinny attitude if you want to keep your readers.
Expecting the New York Times to fairly treat an FDR-style candidate running in the interests of working and poor people would be like expecting the Queen to invite the servants to join her for dinner. The Times, along with all establishment media relying on the dollars of corporate and plutocratic advertisers, is not about to bite the sensitive hand that feeds it. Bernie Sanders is not the first, nor will he be the last, victim of this kind of neoliberal bias at the hands of the media-political nexus.

Speaking of food, I had almost forgotten that this is our great national holiday of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste! Then an email alert from the Times reminded me. Food critic Sam Sifton is sharing his 9/11 "recipes of remembrance."

As you ponder the 3,000 lives lost on that day, The Times wants you treat yourself to some steak frites with Bearnaise sauce (not to be confused with those lumpen Freedom Fries). Do not, of course, chew over the millions of lives lost and uprooted in the continuous illegal wars of American aggression stemming from that terrible day as you swill white wine and comfort yourself with binge-watching Narcos on Netflix from the safety of your luxury digs. Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged us to go shopping after the disaster. Sam Sifton wants you to keep stuffing your faces as you party like it's 9/11 all weekend long:
Rate your recipes after you've cooked them, and leave notes on them, and send them around. We want a big party here. Bring some friends.
As always, we'd like you to let us know if you have any problems with our technology, design or prose. We're at cookingcare@nytimes.com. And I'm on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook if you want to show me your food. #NYTCooking! Have a great weekend.
Now that you've finished quietly barfing over that little interlude, let's get back to the political stuff. The lines between the mass media and government/political parties/donors are growing increasingly blurred. Just days ago, Times Executive Editor Dean Bacquet tellingly dished to the Washington Post (the source of that awful "thoroughbred" quote) that Carolyn Ryan will be moving from running the Washington Bureau to running "one heck of a campaign" within a campaign from New York City, money capital of the world and therefore Campaign Central.

The presidential campaign, admitted Bacquet to the WaPo's Erik Wemple, "is not really a Washington story." Plus, it would be too hard for Ryan to cover both "Trumpfest" and the day-to-day news coming from the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court. 
 “The reality is that the Obama second term — he’s not going quietly,” says Ryan, noting that the paper needs a Washington bureau chief who can pay heed to the president’s last months in office. (Baquet addressed the same dynamic, only with a touch of internal-memo hyperbole, as he highlighted the “continuing story of the epic struggle surrounding President Obama’s final months in Washington.”)
They don't even try to hide the fact that they are propagandists first, news reporters second.The president will be treated not as a public servant accountable to the public, but as some kind of mythic hero in a Manichean battle between good and evil.

Since, as researchers Martin Gillens and Benjamin Page have demonstrated, the wealthy get what they want in the way of legislation from the politicians whom they fund, doesn't it stand to reason that they also get what they want from the media they own? What they seem to want is an alternate reality, far removed from the lives and the travails of regular people. No wonder that their manufactured reality has no room for the likes of Bernie Sanders and his populist agenda.

They don't even try to hide their dismay over the rising fortunes of the Sanders campaign. In another digital front-page Times piece published on Wednesday, panicking Wall Street Democrats mulled recruiting a malleable candidate to replace the tanking Hillary Clinton. Their adherence to the plutocracy couldn't be more brazen: 
It is not just Mrs. Clinton’s weakness in the polls that has generated talk of other alternatives, but also the strength of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is routinely drawing huge crowds at campaign events. That has been disconcerting to Democratic officials who believe that Mr. Sanders, a socialist, is so liberal that his presence at the top of the party’s ticket in 2016 would be disastrous.
“If party leaders see a scenario next winter where Bernie Sanders has a real chance at the Democratic nomination, I think there’s no question that leaders will reach out to Vice President Biden or Secretary of State Kerry or even Gore about entering the primaries,” said Garnet F. Coleman, a Texas state lawmaker and Democratic national committeeman.
The corporate press resides not in the Fourth Estate, but in a luxurious guest house on a virtual gated estate called Oligarchic Acres, Feudal States of America Inc.

The Royal Prosecutor, the Scribe, and the Feudal Lord (Anonymous, 13th century)