Friday, October 30, 2015

Democracy Upside Down

It's not surprising that in its obituary of Sheldon Wolin, who died last week, the New York Times studiously avoided any mention of the term for which this political philosopher is most famous: inverted totalitarianism. Instead, the obit's headline misleadingly and somewhat crankily blared that Wolin was an expert on "the limits of popular democracy."

So it was all the more eerily prescient that in an interview with Chris Hedges last year, Wolin observed that it is essentially verboten for the media-political complex to openly declare that American democracy has been kicked upside the head, resulting in the creation of the Total Capitalistic State. Speaking such a truth might give the plutocratic ruling class a bad case of agita, even if it's mentioned in the obituary of the man who made educating the public about this inconvenient truth his life's work.

Wolin was talking about the capture of private media and public institutions by unfettered capital long before Bernie Sanders started running for president, of course. And given that such plain-speaking from within the political establishment is as rare as a snowball in hell, whether Bernie does in fact have a chance in hell of winning the Democratic nomination has been rendered moot. He is changing the dialogue. He is mentioning the S word, (socialism) and the world has not come to an end. That is quite a revolutionary breakthrough in the historic scheme of things.

The recent rise of Bernie Sanders is comparable to the rise of Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in the early 20th century. TR failed to win the presidency under that populist banner, but the rhetoric still became part of the conversation. Wall Street was put on notice. And by the time the market crashed in 1929, the populist stage was set for Cousin Franklin's New Deal.

What Sheldon Wolin has called the radical experiment, "an unprecedented expansion of state power during peacetime" of FDR's great social programs has been under reactionary attack ever since, with the Democrats wimping out to Republicans when they are not actually aiding and abetting them. The Cold War and the fight against Communism was the initial excuse for shredding the safety net, with that excuse now morphing into the perpetual War on Terror. Fear and want, they think, will keep people quiet.

 That Sanders is even getting mainstream coverage on the proposed expansion of New Deal programs should at least put a temporary halt to their open evisceration by the GOP, and their piecemeal evisceration by Clintonian Third Way Democrats. To that extent, he is right about his campaign being tantamount to a revolution.
It's the beginning of a counter-counterrevolution against the corporate capture of government."The ultimate merger would be between capitalism and democracy," Wolin wrote of the right-wing war against the New Deal in Democracy, Inc. "Once the identity and security of democracy were successfully identified with the Cold War, the stage was set for intimidation of most politics left of right."

Unlike Nazism, Stalinism and fascism, inverted totalitarianism in the United States is "a system driven not by an individual ruler, but by abstract totalizing powers, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on 'private' media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events."

Here's looking at you, New York Times, from your boosting corporate political candidates, to your boosting preemptive wars of aggression, to bowdlerizing the message of one your harshest, most accurate critics in the obituary that you just deigned to write about him. 

"Managed democracy" is the definition of inverted totalitarianism. American democracy is largely contained within the now-permanent electoral process. We are invited to give our opinions on candidates and wedge issues rather than upon substantive issues. We're invited to rail against Ben Carson's snake oil and Marco Rubio's sordid finances instead of the things, like medical care and paychecks, that affect us personally. We're invited to equate voting for a pre-selected candidate with legitimating that candidate.

Wolin wrote, "The United States has become the showcase for how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed. This has come about, not through a Leader's imposing his will or the State's forcibly eliminating opposition, but through certain developments, notably in the economy, that promoted integration, rationalization, concentrated wealth, and a faith that virtually any problem -- from health care, to political crises, to faith itself -- could be managed, even subject to control, predictability and cost-effectiveness in the delivery of the product. Voters are made as predictable as consumers.... The regime ideology is capitalism, which is as virtually undisputed as Nazi doctrine in 1930s Germany."

Another word for this state of affairs is "neoliberalism," or as Margaret Thatcher charmingly defined it, "There is no alternative." (TINA.)

That is why, even though he might not have a chance of winning, Bernie Sanders is turning TINA right on its over-inflated head. He's chasing away the apathy that the oligarchs are counting on. He's afflicting the comfortable. And that includes Hillary Clinton. Even if she wins the presidency, she will lose political capital and public approval for every campaign promise that she decides to break.

Meanwhile, here is the complete 2014 Real News Network conversation between Sheldon Wolin and Chris Hedges. It's divided into eight 20-minute parts, so you can watch it at your leisure.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Commentariat Central

 *Updated below

(Part of a continuing series of New York Times comments by yours truly, with some added commentary in this post to make the fun even funner.) 

Charles Blow, Hillary Clinton Wins Again

Blow makes his centrist political preferences and Times group-think perfectly clear with his second column in a row canonizing Hillary Clinton. The fact that his other gig is on CNN (the Beltway group-think/ terror channel) explains it all.

Here's a sample from his latest ode to the Empress-in-Waiting: 
She is far from flawless, but she is no slouch or dummy. She is sharp and tough and resilient. She is a rock, and she is not to be trifled with.
The Clintons as a couple, and individually, are battle-hardened. They are not new to this. They are survivors. Even when they lose, they survive. No upstart congressman or woman can do more damage than has already been done and dealt with.
Why can’t these people see that? Oh well…
And Blow's obligatory ode to Libya war cheerleader Elijah Cummings (Centrist D-Black Misleadership Class):
 Toward the end of the 11-hour hearing, Cummings said to Clinton:
“You have laid it out. I think — you’ve said — this has not been done perfectly. You wish you could do it another way, and then the statement you made a few minutes ago when you said, you know, I have given more thought to this than all of you combined. So I don’t know what we want from you. Do we want to badger you over and over again until you get tired, until we do get the gotcha moment he’s talking about?”
He continued:
“We’re better than that. We are so much better. We are a better country. And we are better than using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy a campaign. That’s not what America is all about.
My response to Blow:
 With all due respect to Elijah Cummings, Congress is not "better than that." With its approval rating at 15%, Hillary Clinton went into that hearing knowing full well that it would be a marathon campaign commercial, the equivalent of five victorious prime-time debates between a competent politician and a group of bumbling idiots and sadists that made even Ben Carson and Donald Trump look reasonable and kind.

Her composure and stamina were enormously boosted by her fellow Democrats. who obligingly used their time to praise her to the heavens while placing one figurative dunce cap after another upon rapidly deflating Republican heads. There weren't any questions on reports that Benghazi was the site of a secret CIA prison or its use as a hub for illegal arms smuggling to Syrian rebels, for example. There were no questions about her brokering a $20 billion arms sale to the Saudis, who then donated a cheap $1 million to her family foundation. No Democrat questioned her retention of Cheney neocon Victoria Nuland.
 The over-the-top right-wing inquisition of Hillary Clinton has served to temporarily defuse legitimate criticism of her actions and policies from the left. Memories of the Clintons' betrayal of poor women through the odious Welfare Reform Act of 1996 are forgotten as besotted pundits praise her as a role model for beleaguered women everywhere.

Watch out for those falling shards as she breaks the glass ceiling, and Wall Street cries all the way to Wall Street.


No, he isn't being snarky or ironic. He thinks that Romney, in his heart of hearts, is a really cool technocrat who just doesn't get enough credit for inventing Obamacare. I haven't been keeping count, but this has got to be about the hundredth of all Krugman's blog-posts and columns over the past several years which have inordinately praised the Affordable Care Act.

Krugman is especially pleased that some rich people in his own social set are happy with the program, no doubt because they are able to afford the ridiculous premiums on the Gold Plan, or whatever they're calling health coverage for the pampered ruling class these days:
How good is the insurance thus obtained? Not perfect: despite subsidies, policies are still hard for some to afford, and deductibles and co-pays can be onerous. But most people enrolled under Obamacare report high satisfaction with their coverage, which is hugely better than simply not being uninsured. And may I inject a personal note? If truth be told, I live in a pretty rarefied, upper-middle-class-and-above milieu — yet even so I know several people for whom the Affordable Care Act has been more or less literally a lifesaver. This is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a really big deal.
Well, unlike his Times colleagues, Krugman is rare in his honesty. He readily admits that he is a snob.

My response to him: 
 Meanwhile, Mitt's running mate Paul Ryan wants to privatize Medicare, as well as getting rid of Obamacare and tearing the rest of the social safety net to shreds. But Joe Biden has just come to his defense, saying that Ryan is "a good guy" with whom Democrats should be eager to cooperate.

And therein lies the problem. The DNC leadership has veered so far right that it is either reduced to shooting diseased GOP fish in a barrel, or pretending that bipartisanship is still a good thing. It's reduced to defending a clunky insurance program that benefits only some of the people some of the time.

Yes, the expansion of Medicaid to some of the working poor is to be applauded. But the fact remains that at least 30 million of us remain uninsured or underinsured. Thousands of people are still dying because they can't afford to see a doctor. 

Medicare for All (John Conyers' HR 676) is getting well-deserved new attention through the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. Not only would it cover everybody from cradle to grave with medical, dental, mental health care and drug therapies, it would actually save as much as a trillion dollars a year. From "consumers" who must now enter a fraught health care lottery every year in order to enrich the increasingly consolidated insurance industry, we'd be able join the rest of the civilized world in defining health care as a basic human right.

Forget about freeing Romney. How about freeing 330 million Americans via Medicare for All?

As a further antidote to Times-think, here's Bernie Sanders tearing it up at last weekend's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa. (Yes, the Dems unfortunately still honor a slave-owner and an ethnic cleanser.) 

* Update, stop the presses! Maureen Dowd tells Public Editor Margaret Sullivan that her "Column (about Beau Biden's death-wish) Is Accurate."

I wrote about this planted column when it was published on Aug. 2. And presto change-o, months later, during the same week Biden decided not to run, he appeared on TV to huffily disown the whole bathetic story about Beau's death-wish. And now the New York Times is embroiled in yet another "scandal" of its own making. It seems that news reporter Amy Chozick extrapolated from Dowd's puff piece the image of Beau on his death-bed, a la The Gipper, when all  Dowd had done was place him sitting up at the kitchen table. Seriously.That is how seriously these very important, shallow people take themselves.

My comment:
It was so obvious that Joe Biden and/or his operatives used Maureen Dowd and the Times as the vehicle to float his presidential trial balloon. Whether Beau had the alleged conversation with his dad as he sat dying, or whether he had the conversation as he lay dying, or whether the conversation existed at all, is a moot point.

I remember that her column appeared earlier than usual that weekend, and that moderators immediately placed reader comments saying "Run Joe Run!" in the "Times Pick" category, effectively sequestering those that were more skeptical. The agenda was perfectly clear.

As others have noted, the propaganda was mutually beneficial to both Dowd and Biden. If her column did not suit his express purposes, don't you think he would have immediately demanded retractions on both her column and Amy Chozick's subsequent article?
Biden had come under renewed criticism in the past few weeks, when his PAC ran a maudlin commercial which shamelessly used Beau Biden's death as a vehicle to push his father's candidacy. The VP demanded that it be taken down because it was that obvious and slimy and phony.

And now that he is no longer running (or at least until Hillary Clinton possibly implodes) he suddenly comes out and makes a stink about the Beau column and the articles on "60 Minutes." It seems to me that Regular Joe bears as much of the blame for this whole mini-scandal as the sycophantic press corps.

Lesson to pundits and reporters: don't be shills for the powerful.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WHO, Meat?

How can you tell that you live in an oligarchy, where money and profits trump human health and well-being?

When the consolidated corporate media frames a new report showing that red and processed meats cause cancer around how mad and sad these findings make the meat industry feel. Not about how each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases your chance of colorectal cancer by 18%.

As far as they're concerned, this is not only about how eating certain foods might make you sick and dead, but about how shockingly un-American the report by the World Health Organization truly is. Hating hot dogs would be as unpatriotic as hating Exceptional USA, dontcha know.

The Wall Street Journal's lede:
 Red and processed meats have the potential to cause cancer in humans, according to a report by a World Health Organization agency that is drawing ire from meat industry groups that argue the science is inadequate.
 The Washington Post's take:
The report by the influential group stakes out one of the most aggressive stances against meat yet taken by a major health organization, and it is expected to face stiff criticism in the United States.
Get ready for outraged The War Against Steak coverage to vie with The War Against Christmas on Fox. Get ready for the congressional sausage-makers to open up their gluttonous maws for millions of lobbyist dollars to help them bring home the bacon even as they continue to cut food stamp stipends for the working poor and retirees. According to the Post, it isn't the meat that's deadly: it's the international health group itself:
 But the panel’s decision was not unanimous, and by raising lethal concerns about a food that anchors countless American meals, it will be controversial. The $95 billion U.S.  beef industry has been preparing for months to mount a response and some scientists, including some unaffiliated with the meat industry, have questioned whether the evidence is substantial enough to draw the kinds of strong conclusions that the WHO panel did.
It looks as though carcinogenic meat will be the next big Climate Change Debate. Gluttony will be given equal time with moderation and abstention in order to make the coverage, as well as the meals, fair and balanced. The debate largely centers around semantics. Although red and processed meats have long been linked to cancer, this is the first time they have actually been said to cause cancer. 
In recent years, meat consumption has been the target of multi-faceted social criticism, with debates erupting not just over its role on human health, but the impact of feedlots on the environment and on animal welfare. The public debate over the WHO's findings will likely play out with political lobbying, and in marketing messages for consumers.
But at its core, the dispute over meat and cancer revolves around science, and in particular the difficulty that arises whenever scientists try to link any food to a chronic disease.
In order for scientists to prove once and for all that red meat causes cancer, long-term studies of red meat consumers and non-red meat consumers would have to be conducted. And it would be so inhumane to force-feed tons of bacon to groups of hungry guinea pigs just to prove that they will develop cancer at higher rates than vegans and fish eaters. And goodness knows, the food industry only has our health and best interests at heart. Therefore, they suggest that we simply ignore the WHO report.

The meat industry is already taking tips from Big Tobacco and getting their big lies ready. 

They will repeat the lies often enough and loudly enough to give them the patina of truth.

The North American Meat Institute derides even less strident findings than those of WHO as "flawed and nonsensical," claiming that today's modern meat is less fatty and more nutritious than yesterday's meat, and that processed meat is more readily consumed than ordinary meat, and that it also makes you feel fuller faster because of  its "nutrient density."

If this sounds like bunk, it's because it is bunk.

As if that were not enough, the Institute also claims that the excessive salt added to processed meat is good for you, too! 
“As an ingredient in meat products, salt is used as a preservative, which is one aspect of a multi-hurdle approach toward maintaining product safety,” AMI said. “In the last 20 years, the meat and poultry industry has also learned in more quantitative fashion the importance of sodium chloride in managing pathogenic bacterial risks presented by L. monocytogenes, Salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli in processed meat and poultry items.”
Who wouldn't pick a slow death from colorectal cancer or hypertension or heart disease over an instantaneous, nasty case of food poisoning?  Or, as the Lesser Evil Caucus  phrases it, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

And if you feel guilty about eating a formerly living animal, don't. Because slaughtering methods are so much more humane than they were when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. So says Big Meat.

Most important, the meat industry is the biggest sector in the agriculture industry, which in turn is the biggest sector of the whole lousy US economy. Therefore, if you don't eat carcinogenic food, there will be no metastatic growth and progress.  Forgoing bologna sandwiches would destroy thousands of low-wage jobs in charnel houses and meatpacking plants. Never mind that thanks to "free trade," American meat is now being shipped to such slave-wage countries as China for processing and shipping back to our dinner tables.

And did I mention that the North American Meat Institute is one of the secret negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Did I even have to? They truly put the mystery back into the Mystery Meat.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Benign Inquisition of Hillary Clinton

You've seen the already iconic images of Hillary Clinton at her Congressional hearing on Benghazi yesterday. The bored resting of the hand on the regal chin, the dismissive flicking of imaginary dirt off the regal shoulder, the barely contained smirk on the regal face as the good cop Dems squandered the opportunity to ask her substantive questions and instead used our time to pay her court.

It was eleven hours of kangaroo court testimony taking place at the eleventh hour of our moribund democracy. One set of plutocrats did battle with another set of plutocrats. And the Queen-in-waiting was, in the words of Democratic operative Donna Brazile, steely, stoic, and serene.

It was an eleven-hour-long campaign commercial and fund-raising opportunity. Emails urging us to have Hillary's back arrived at regular intervals. We were urged to show our proletarian solidarity by sending a few bucks her way to supplement the hundreds of millions already supplied to her by Wall Street.

 Hillary Clinton could never have offered such a bravura performance without such a strong supporting ensemble cast of comical Torquemadas, Macbethian shrews, fawning fan-waving Uriah Heeps, soldiers of fortune,  and a whole Greek chorus full of wailing pundits. It helped her case enormously that Trey Gowdy, the guy touting himself as Best Actor in a Sadistic Series, seemed to be going for the Ed Grimley look.

Hillary Clinton ventured forth from her mobile Petit Trianon and donned shining designer armor for a one-day-only performance as Joan of Arc under siege. But instead of being tied to the stake, she was plopped up on an embroidered cushion atop expensive leather upholstery. The rest of us were glued to our seats as Hillary endured the third degree by a right-wing cabal of third rate actors. She came out of the whole Grand Guignol ordeal smiling, refreshed and smug.

And why shouldn't she be happy and relieved?  She was never questioned on her real crimes and those of the Obama administration. To wit: 

The extent to which the non-Congressionally approved Libya adventure destabilized the country and led to the attack was left largely unexamined. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has previously revealed that Benghazi was the hub for an illegal gun-running operation to Syria. And then-CIA director David Petraeus's girlfriend, Paula Broadwell, has let slip that Benghazi was also the site of a secret, illegal black-ops prison. 

Nor was Clinton confronted about the administration's role in the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis engendered by the Libya bombings and other wars of aggression, and her individual role in the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Honduras, and the ensuing refugee crisis and imprisonment of Central American mothers and children in Homeland Security immigration prisons.

Hillary Clinton has every reason to feel happy, relieved and triumphant. Her twin  personality traits and political techniques  -- victimization and survivalism -- remain intact.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Judge Dread and the Corporate Vampires

When it comes to exploiting and extracting from poor people, one Alabama judge certainly knows how to put the blood back into Churchillian blood, toil, tears and sweat.

In the true spirit of Halloween and turbocharged capitalism, rural Circuit Court Judge Marvin Wiggins has devised a unique form of punishment for minor offenders. If you can't pay the fine, you don't necessarily have to do the time in debtors' prison. All you have to do is open up a vein and relinquish a pint of one of the last personal resources that you still have left.

The New York Times has all the grisly details:
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” began Judge Wiggins, a circuit judge here in rural Alabama since 1999. “For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside,” he continued, according to a recording of the hearing. “If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.”
For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge concluded: “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.”
Forcing someone to undergo an invasive medical procedure in order to extract revenue for the state is unethical, if not downright illegal, posing as it does a public health danger from an unvetted blood donor population. According to the Times, dozens of "offenders" found guilty of everything from running a stop sign, to poaching, to drug use, dutifully lined up at a blood drive van in the courthouse parking lot. They were issued receipts, and were promised $100 off their fines, or old debts.

Who knows? Some of them perhaps were already employed in the gig economy as "plassers," entrepreneurs who supplement their meager incomes through regular hook-ups at their local blood banks. Even then, the plutocracy must take its cut, as donors are paid their $50-a-pop not by cash or check, but via plastic debit cards. So every time the plasser buys something in Walmart, a bank deducts a fee. That telltale pale bruised look that you see on struggling people is often a result of chronic anemia as well as malnourishment and the fatigue of working two or three minimum wage jobs.

Blood donations as a way of paying fines and bills were more common during wartime, but were largely abandoned by the justice system as outbreaks of hepatitis and H.I.V. scared government officials right out of their sadistic, bloodsucking greed.

Ironically enough, the for-profit mobile blood bank operating from the Alabama courthouse parking lot was run by LifeSouth, which had recently lost a $4 million lawsuit over an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion. The thirst for money is like a vampire. It dies hard, if it ever dies at all.

When LifeSouth couldn't contact all of Judge Wiggins' involuntary donors to ask some of the required medical questions ex post facto, the biological collection agency ended up discarding all the blood it had drawn. The Times article doesn't specify whether it disposed of the blood properly, or whether it simply dumped it into the nearest drinking water supply.

And to add insult to injury, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center says Wiggins the Impaler even reneged on his promise to reduce the defendants' fines by $100. His victims may yet have to serve jail time for the crime of hunting for their own food after dark, and other offenses against the oligarchy.

Meanwhile, blood is a very big business. Along with charter schools and EBT food stamp cards, it is just one of the myriad ways for the rich to profit from the poor.  Even so, the onerous chore of sucking the lifeblood out of people makes the corporate vampires kvetch. So much of it ends up spoiling due to those dreaded market inefficiencies.

Ben Bowman, the CEO of a private blood mill originally called "General Blood" told Forbes magazine that more than a million pints of the valuable red stuff get tossed every single year. His business plan is to undercut the Red Cross by operating a one-stop blood sales and distribution hub smack dab in the US Heartland.
Bowman, 33, can offer pints at an ­average price of $229. He’s contracted with donation centers along the Interstate 35 corridor—from Laredo, Tex. to Duluth, Minn.—to ship blood by FedEx  to hospitals that have agreements with General Blood. Bowman and 30-year-old cofounder David Mitchell guarantee delivery of the mix of types (O+, AB and B–) that hospitals prefer for local populations; blood types vary somewhat by ethnicity.
Bowman teamed up with a former investment banker from Wells Fargo (which also made a pile of dough off the poor via its subprime mortgages and foreclosures) to devise his business plan, which is predicated on an excess of the blood supply resulting from the financial collapse which Wells Fargo helped to cause in the first place. Fewer people can afford to have elective surgeries, even necessary surgeries, because of no jobs, no insurance, or junk insurance with sky-high co-pays and deductibles. Forbes reporter Erin Carlyle ghoulishly notes:
 Critics say this gave General Blood an opening: soaking up the excess and ­distributing pints where they were needed. But when the economy eventually turns and more people have those operations, there will be less need for a middleman.
“We’re projecting that as the boomers get into their 70s, you’re going to see a lot more hip replacements, knee replacements,” says Jim MacPherson, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, a network and trade organization. “We project, over the next five to six years, that blood demand will start increasing again and could increase rather dramatically. At that point there’s no more surplus, [and] General Blood probably goes away.”
But the upstart Lestats were not discouraged and soon expanded operations into an Internet blood exchange. It operates like E-bay: hospitals and blood entrepreneurs can compete and bid on batches of Type O-Positive. Goldman Sachs can even get into the act, drawing on its social impact betting formula to place odds on how long a given vat of Type B will stay fresh before it is lost, stolen, sold, transfused or otherwise imbibed.

And don't tell me about those medieval leechers, either, because General Blood was a recent, and proud, semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup contest for venture capitalists. 

  But after a few years in the biz, the CEOs realized that "General Blood" sounded a bit boring and macabre, so they renamed it Hema Vista. (translation: spectacle of blood). And to go with its brand new marketing image of a bright-red sunset, it is now also based in The Cloud! 

Let's face it, folks. Judge Wiggins of Alabama is just a very small vampire in a very big castle.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Skål, Amerika!

Just as Woodrow Wilson made the world safe for democracy, Larry David has made Bernie Sanders safe for America.

Once you've been impersonated by an A-list comic who regularly plays golf with Obama, you have finally arrived as a respected mainstream politician. Paul Krugman will even break down and write a whole column about you. OK, so I exaggerate. He actually wrote a column about Denmark, and somehow concluded that Hillary and Bernie are the same person. Or, to be more specific, he glibly turned Hillary's snarky debate remark about Denmark into a "demure" Bernie mind-meld in order to spread the message that Hillbern is better than Republicans. She is not only a progressive, she's a damned born-again socialist to boot!

Krugman boldly goes where no pundit has gone heretofore. He goes to Denmark, and proves that it is not the scary Commie place that the Beltway Thought Collective makes it out to be. It turns out that not only are those dour Danes outrageously fortunate, they rank at the very top of the global life satisfaction heap:
Denmark maintains a welfare state — a set of government programs designed to provide economic security — that is beyond the wildest dreams of American liberals. Denmark provides universal health care; college education is free, and students receive a stipend; day care is heavily subsidized. Overall, working-age families receive more than three times as much aid, as a share of G.D.P., as their U.S. counterparts.
To pay for these programs, Denmark collects a lot of taxes. The top income tax rate is 60.3 percent; there’s also a 25 percent national sales tax. Overall, Denmark’s tax take is almost half of national income, compared with 25 percent in the United States.
My published comment:
 The Nordic countries in general rank among the happiest places on earth. Our own version of the happiest place on earth is the Disney theme park. The wages are low, and the high price of admission is way out of the reach of what is still quaintly called the middle class. In that sense, Disney is a true American symbol.

Despite this being a rich country with the highest health care costs on earth, we still lack universal coverage, still rank near the bottom in morbidity and mortality. Inequality is extreme.

Scandinavian happiness is predicated not upon money and consumerism, but upon societal solidarity. Their politicians don’t wage wars, have SuperPACs, or campaign for years on end. That fascism is now gaining a toehold even in Northern Europe speaks to the contamination by Eurozone austerity and the migrant crisis spawned by American wars of aggression.
 It's no wonder that deficit hawks don’t want to hear about Scandinavia. But how ironic, their crabbily calling Bernie Sanders a grumpy Quixote as he talks about happy countries. He merely speaks the truth that we, too, could get a good thing going if we’d only tax the richest families and corporations at about the same rates that they were taxed during the Eisenhower years. You might even remember those wonder years, when Walt Disney built his empire, and the middle class reached its zenith, and all you needed to be happy was a steady job and a living wage and a secure retirement.

Skål, Bernie!
In response to another Times commenter who took umbrage at my unpatriotic dissing of Disney, I wrote:
 The price of a one-day Disney pass has been jacked up to $108 per person, while the workers employed there as characters are paid low wages and no-to-low benefits. Rich families can go to the head of the line by paying extra, or by paying down-and-out people to wait in line for them. It is truly all-American, right down to the classism and the jingoism and the buy-buy-buy mentality.

At Tivoli Gardens, Denmark's iconic amusement park, children under 8 are admitted free and adults are charged the equivalent of $15.
My point was that American and European values, and their measurements of happiness and well-being, are worlds apart.

And I personally don't know any struggling families who can afford a day at Disney World.
But I digress. Upon further reflection, I fear that my toast to Bernie may have been somewhat premature, if not downright misplaced. My Bernie-emblazoned mug of Carlsberg is not only losing its froth, it's going flatter by the minute. It seems I'd missed Bernie's TV appearance yesterday in which he declared himself A-OK with Obama's wars. How can you be a democratic socialist and a war-monger at the same time?

As always, the good folks over at the World Socialist Website have the bummer of a lowdown. From the transcript of Bernie's  interview with ABC-Disney's George Stephanopoulos, in which he dodged and weaved on how, why, when and where he would use unilateral military force:
BS: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.... I think sensible foreign policy and military policies suggest that it cannot be the United States of America alone which solves all of the world’s military…

GS: In all circumstances?

BS: Well, of course, you know, I’m not saying, you know, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. I didn’t say in all circumstances.
The WSW's Patrick Martin is scathing in his assessment:
While Sanders is happy to denounce George W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq as one of the worst decisions ever made in US foreign policy, he made no reference to the devastation created by Barack Obama’s interventions in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.
Sanders is in no sense an “antiwar” candidate. He uses demagogic condemnations of “millionaires and billionaires” and the growth of social inequality to appeal to working people and young people who are deeply opposed to American militarism, but only to divert their attention from the growing danger of the imperialist war. His support for the policy of the ruling class abroad exposes his pretense of opposing the policy of this same ruling class within the United States.
Even on the infrequent occasions when he has discussed the disastrous consequences of US policy in the Middle East, it is only from the standpoint of American nationalism, not genuine opposition to imperialist war. Once in a while, Sanders bemoans the casualties suffered by American troops or the waste of resources better used at home, but he has never indicated any sympathy for the people of the countries targeted for destruction by US military interventions.
Krugman was wrong about the Bernary mind-meld, but only insofar as it pertains to their economic policies, which are as different as FDR and Clinton. Bernie and Hillary are, unfortunately, of the same mindset as regards US militarism. Why else would he not confront her about her pathological plot to bomb Libya and the subsequent refugee crisis that it engendered?  Why else would he ignore the corruption of her family foundation, and her record billions of dollars in arms sales to despotic regimes?

So, to be a Bernie supporter or not to be?  All I can say to you is "to thine own self be true."

Meanwhile, Bernie proclaims himself so pleased with Larry David's impersonation of him that he thinks the comic can substitute for him on the stump.

But if you think Bernie tells it like it is, how about Lewis Black trying to explain Amerikan kapitalisme to a bunch of socialists from Amsterdam? This rant makes Bernie look like a centrist Democrat on Valium:

 "Pull out your gold fillings and put them on E-bay. I'm getting the &*$% out of here!"-- Lewis Black. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Warmongers Without Limits (continued)

Not only do the lethal imperialists of the United States have no limits, they seem determined to shatter the space-time continuum as they revel in their perpetual orgy of death.

Within the space of 24 hours, we have learned that 90 percent of Obama's drone victims have been innocent civilians; that the USA will wage war in Afghanistan through 2017 (aka forever); and that the military attack on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital was at least an "accidentally on purpose" gross violation of the Geneva Conventions if not an outright act of mass murder. Officials at high levels knew they were bombing a hospital.

Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't noticed anyone running for president stand up and deplore any of these atrocities. There are no candidates running on a pacifist plank from either major corporate party. That is because there is no major anti-war movement in this country, and there hasn't been for a long time. To be more specific, there has been no mass outrage since President Peace Prize Obama took office in 2009. And that has got to change, if we have any hope of reining in the runaway Military-Industrial Complex, and the president and the Congress it controls.

Don't vote for anybody unless she or he condemns the wars and the death and the destruction. A mere promise to cut back or end them soon won't fly. (And that goes for you, too, Bernie Sanders!)

Just as Obama was announcing that the Afghan War will continue in all its fury until morale improves, The Intercept revealed that another contractor with a conscience leaked documents which outline precisely how our government ascertains which Muslims to kill. Far from being the "surgical strikes" that Obama boasts about, these racist killings by remote control are rarely if ever limited to alleged "militants" or suspected terrorists. As far as their alleged therapeutic value is concerned, drones are no better than cruise missiles aimed at a civilian population from hundreds of miles away, or any more delicate than a cluster bomb ripping human bodies to shreds for miles around. You can read the whole report here.

And only hours after Obama announced the retention of 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the AP dropped its own bombshell, revealing that audio exists of the warplane pilots questioning the legality of what they were doing even as they incinerated patients trapped in their beds during the 90-minute attack. American special ops had identified the hospital as a hospital before the order went down to obliterate it. American spies suspected that a Pakistani Taliban spy might have been holed up within. Even if that were true, it is no justification for destroying a medical facility.

From the AP report:
Doctors without Borders has condemned the bombing as a war crime. The organization says the strike killed 12 hospital staff and 10 patients, and that death toll may rise. It insists that no gunmen, weapons or ammunition were in the building. The U.S. and Afghan governments have launched three separate investigations. President Barack Obama has apologized, but Doctors without Borders is calling for an international probe.
Doctors without Borders officials say the U.S. airplane made five separate strafing runs over an hour, directing heavy fire on the main hospital building, which contained the emergency room and intensive care unit. Surrounding buildings were not struck, they said.
Typically, pilots flying air support missions would have maps showing protected sites such as hospitals and mosques. If commanders concluded that enemies were operating from a protected site, they would follow procedures designed to minimize civilian casualties. That would generally mean surrounding a building with troops, not blowing it to bits from the air.
What the new details suggest "is that the hospital was intentionally targeted, killing at least 22 patients and MSF staff," said Meinie Nicolai, president of the operational directorate of Doctors without Borders, which is also known by its French initials MSF. "This would amount to a premeditated massacre. ... Reports like this underscore how critical it is for the Obama administration to immediately give consent to an independent and impartial investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to find out how and why U.S. forces attacked our hospital."
In order for this investigation to proceed, the commission would have to obtain permission from Obama and Afghan President Ghani, who are both allegedly conducting their own probes of their own agencies. Permission is therefore not expected to be forthcoming. 

We are anxiously waiting for our presidential candidates and congress critters to step up to the plate and go to bat for the 22 innocent victims of the hospital bombings. However, since they have never gone to bat for the millions of other victims of United States aggression, we probably wait in vain. Unless, that is, enough of us make certain political lives uncomfortable and their seats precarious.

To help make them suitably uncomfortable, MSF is circulating a Change.Org petition demanding that Obama agree to a separate investigation:
 "Survivors have recounted it as a horrifying experience. Beyond that, attacking a protected site such as a hospital is a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions. The precise GPS coordinates of the four-year-old MSF hospital in Kunduz were provided to U.S. and Afghan authorities in Washington and Kabul in the days prior to the bombing, and the hospital contained nearly 200 patients and staff at the time of the attack.  
Investigations have been launched by the U.S., NATO, and the Afghan government, but it is impossible to expect the parties involved in the conflict to carry out independent and impartial investigations of acts in which they themselves are implicated.
It was for that reason, and in the name of our killed and wounded colleagues and patients—and for all of our staff and patients worldwide—that MSF called for an independent international investigation into the events of October 3 by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), the only permanent body set up specifically to investigate violations of international humanitarian law."
Earlier this week, the Obama administration also dropped a program to train "reasonable" Syrian terrorists in order to oust the democratically elected president. They have opted instead to just blindly airdrop weapons in hopes that the moderate militants will find them and use them to kill the immoderate militants. We are assured by the administration that the unknown people getting hold of these weapons have been swiftly and properly vetted by the same class of spooks which determined that the Kunduz charity hospital was a hotbed of terror, and that ISIS was a J.V. basketball team. Meanwhile, the administration announced that the limited number of Syrian refugees our exceptional country is willing to take in have to wait at least two years to be properly vetted, lest they include incipient Muslim child terrorists. The tacit message being sent to the victims of United States aggression by the United States Pathocracy: Don't even bother to apply. You are not wanted here.

As the late Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam, Islamophobia has gained an undeserved political correctness thanks to decades of slanted news coverage and portrayals of Muslims as terrorists in Hollywood-produced entertainment. "Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West," he rightly observed, adding later in his book:

"To a basically indifferent and already poorly informed American clientele, the Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion. Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

And the Winner Is...

If you're a Hillary fan, Hillary won the debate. If you're a Bernie fan, Bernie won the debate. If you're a Lincoln Chafee fan, I can give you the name of a very good therapist.

Even within the suffocating confines of the Democratic machine, last night's debate was practically Lincoln-Douglas compared to the recent Republican circuses. And I give high marks to moderator Anderson Cooper, who was somehow able to resist asking the candidates who they'd like to see on the $10 bill.

The mass media are, of course, making gleeful hay out of Clinton's attack on Bernie's gun control record. Er... make that gun "safety" record. The Democrats no longer talk about actually controlling guns, because that might hurt the feelings of responsible, liberal gun owners. The emphasis is now upon restricting gun sales to the happiest, most mentally healthy well-adjusted people out there, those who carefully keep their Sig Sauers locked up in designer cabinets rather than leaving their shotguns propped upon against the wall of a red state trailer for the kids to get hold of and shoot each other over puppies.

For whatever reason, Bernie did not go on the counterattack. He did not, for example, point out that Hillary Clinton sold $20 billion worth of lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia while she was Secretary of State, and that Saudi royals then turned around and donated nearly $1 million to the Clinton Foundation. He didn't point out that Saudi Arabia is using these weapons to kill thousands of Yemeni civilians as well as continuing to behead dissidents and stone women to death in their own country. 

As Bernie himself unfortunately admitted, he is no "pacifist." He would continue Obama's drone policy of rendering Muslims into bug-splat. And even though he was the sole Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, he still believes that patriot Ed Snowden should face criminal charges. He did not refute Hillary's specious claim that Snowden would have found justice by going through Congressional channels instead of giving evidence of government spying to the media.

So since Bernie can't or won't, let's talk more about Hillary Clinton's horrible record on guns and all manner of high tech weaponry. David Sirota should have been invited to help moderate the debate, because he conducted a thorough analysis of her record just last spring, when she was busily riding in her Scooby van and shmoozing the scripted neoliberal love to "everyday Americans":
The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.
Under Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure -- derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) -- represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.
In other words, the Clintons are major arms dealers who, in a reality-based world, would be given an A+ rating by the NRA -- on top of their A+ ratings from Wall Street war profiteers and defense contractors.

But this is an insane world presented to us as fair and balanced and mentally healthy by corporate media hacks whose jobs depend upon the successful alteration of our reality. According to the New York Times, Hillary "turned up the heat" on Bernie so much that they might as well have reported that his hair caught fire and he had to flee the Vegas kitchen. According to the Huffington Post, she crushed him into bug-splat with the merest flick of her pinkie finger. (OK, so he later recovered sufficiently to feebly wave a surviving tentacle in her general direction.)  The Washington Post proclaimed that Hillary towered like an Amazon over the sniveling guys flanking her on the stage. She was "fluid, steady and calm" to Bernie Sanders' maniacal shouting into a microphone, sniffed Dana Milbank.

I haven't yet read all the reviews, but so far, a puff piece by former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni is the one that really takes the cake. From his current perch atop the op-ed page, he gushed in his typical one-sentence paragraphs: 
I never doubted that Hillary Clinton had many talents.

I just didn’t know that seamstress was among them.

There were moments in the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night when she threaded the needle as delicately and perfectly as a politician could.
Wait. It gets worse:
 He seemed bowed, irascible. She seemed buoyant, effervescent. It was as poised a performance as she’s finessed in a long time, and while I’ve just about given up making predictions about this confounding election — I never thought Donald Trump would last so long, and I never saw Ben Carson coming — I think Clinton benefited more from Tuesday’s stage than Sanders did.
How is one bowed (crushed) and irascible (feisty) at the same time? I have just about given up on making any sense out of Frank Bruni. But wait. It gets even worser:
And she benefited from the visual contrast when she stood side by side on TV next to Sanders, with his slight hunch, his somewhat garbled style of speech, and a moment when he cupped his hand behind his ear, signaling that he hadn’t heard the question.
He evoked yesterday. Despite many decades in the political trenches, she didn’t. It was a nifty trick. Turns out she’s a bit of a sorceress as well.
Bernie apparently does not speak in the pristine Bruniesque one-sentence paragraphs that make up the ideal word salad. But speaking of sorceresses, who are, I suppose, good witches as opposed to hags (Hillary at least puts the bubble back into toil and trouble), here is my published response to Brunhilda:

 Come on now. Did anybody really expect the paper of record and a centrist columnist to declare Bernie Sanders the winner of this debate? The corporate media, Frank Bruni included, have been bending over backward to avoid even mentioning the guy's name. They seem not to have a clue about the mood in this country.

The resounding campaign theme way out here in the sticks is "It's the Corruption, Stupid!" Not about who is the most polished debater with the best hair and makeup, the most nuanced wonky talking points, the straightest posture, and the most discreet hearing aid.

Yes, Hillary Clinton performed very well at the Democratic debate. She has had 26 of them in which to hone her skills -- unlike in this season, when the Democratic leadership is so rattled at the prospect of ABH (Anybody But Hillary) that they drastically limited them to six (the rest coming on weekends and holiday seasons.) So I bet Debbie Wasserman Schultz is kicking herself, seeing as how Hillary had a relatively easy time of it last night.

 And I can only imagine how thrilled Hillary must be that Frank Bruni's idea of a rave review is to call her a talented seamstress. Can a description of a female politician get any more chauvinistically 19th century than that? Not only does Bruni need a Miracle Ear to cure his tone-deafness, a transfer to the Style Section might be in order as well.

And by the way -- the USA turning into Denmark on steroids sounds like an excellent plan to me.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Wonder of Plunder

No holiday is as quintessentially US American as Columbus Day, that grotesque combination of consumerism and parades and nostalgia for the good old days of colonialism and ethnic cleansing. And because fervid nationalistic myths die so hard, it is all the more refreshing to learn that several more cities have now coupled the pathological worship of a Renaissance vulture capitalist with their own Indigenous Peoples' Days.

From The Guardian;
As the US observes Columbus Day on Monday, it will also be Indigenous Peoples Day in at least nine cities, including Albuquerque; Portland, Oregon; St Paul, Minnesota; and Olympia, Washington.Encouraged by city council votes in Minneapolis and Seattle last year, Native American activists made a push in dozens of cities in recent months to get local leaders to officially recognise the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Their success was mixed.
The campaigns say the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus – and the parades and pageantry accompanying it – overlooks a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed the Italian explorer’s 1492 arrival in the Americas.
The indigenous holiday takes into account the history and contributions of Native Americans for a more accurate historical record, activists have argued.
If Columbus Day is quintessentially US-ian, then so too is false equivalence. Five hundred years later, activists find themselves having to argue over the historical record, as though history were debatable. Facts are such controversial things.

As  Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz explains in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, "Origin narratives form the vital core of a people's unifying identity and of the values that guide them. In the United States, the founding and development of the Anglo-American settler state involves a narrative about Puritan settlers who had a covenant with God to take the land. That part of the origin story is supported and reinforced by the Columbus myth and the 'Doctrine of Discovery.' According to a series of late fifteenth century papal bulls, European nations acquired title to the lands they 'discovered' and the Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans arrived and claimed it."

And from the quintessential Howard Zinn:
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
It is no accident that Columbus "discovered" America at the same time that the Spanish Inquisition was in full throttle, and Ferdinand, Isabella and Torquemada were also busily expelling or converting Jews, and deporting Muslims, and burning heretics at the stake. Subjugation of peoples around the globe is still very much in the DNA of the ruling elites. Columbus Day will be abolished over their cold, dead, pampered bodies.

Not for nothing has the image of Columbus been transgendered into a beneficent goddess in paintings, sculptures, and corporate logos. An Ivy League university is named after a plunderer. So too is a sportswear company and a space shuttle. "Hail, Columbia" is the entrance march for the US vice president. CBS, one of the six major media conglomerates, is the acronym for the Columbia Broadcasting System. Columbia Pictures is a major Hollywood studio. And so on and so forth.

Columbia Pictures Logo

And not for nothing is the power center of the US imperium located in the richest, most corrupt place in the entire country: Washington, District of Columbia. The goals of the 21st century ruling class are still so essentially Columbian: globalization for the purposes of extracting slave labor and mineral wealth. The Columbian spirit is very deeply embedded in the top-secret plunderous pages of both the Trans-Pacific and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships. 

President Obama (Columbia-'83) let his own inner Columbus shine through in his latest weekly address
With this Trans-Pacific Partnership, we are writing the rules for the global economy.  America is leading in the 21st century.  Our workers will be the ones who get ahead.  Our businesses will get a fair deal.  And those who oppose passing this new trade deal are really just accepting a status quo that everyone knows puts us at a disadvantage.
The Spanish royals used much the same line as they sent forth Columbus and their subsequent armies of conquistadors to rewrite the rules of the global economy. Isabella remained a popular ruler as she held her own weekly audiences with her subjects. Meanwhile, Spain went so deeply into debt via global colonialism that its empire declined and fell, as empires always do.
Still, Columbus must be writhing with pleasure in his grave as the parade of capitalism marches on and on, heedless of the global havoc it wreaks.

And conservative Catholics are still pressing the cause of his sugar-mommy  Isabella for sainthood, a movement that collapsed during the 500th anniversary celebrations of the "discovery." Apparently the queen has been unable to perform the requisite miracles, such as revising history as successfully as US textbook writers and politicians.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Commentariat Central

I've been remiss in reposting my New York Times comments, mainly because I've also been remiss in actually writing New York Times comments. To honor your requests, here are some of my replies to various articles, dating back as far as last month, and in no particular order:

Paul Theroux, The Hypocrisy of 'Helping' the Poor:

 "Philanthrocapitalism" is one of the many ways that the rich get richer. It's an orchestrated attempt by oligarchs to discourage the politicians they own from raising their taxes. It pre-empts direct government aid to the poor.

If the rich didn't make so much money and gain so much influence by "giving," then they wouldn't be playing the game.

To many of them, helping the poor equates with controlling the poor. They wield their power by dividing the Deserving from the Undeserving Poor. Their noblesse oblige is not only undemocratic. It's anti-democratic. 

 Much plutocratic charity goes to elite universities and think tanks studying the poor from a distance, or to their own tax-exempt foundations. For example, Warren Buffett is giving away his billions, not directly to the needy, but directly to the Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation - besides concentrating on such worthy causes as polio eradication - has expanded its own financial empire into privatizing schools, funding Common Core, conducting teacher evaluations via corporations, inserting its own software into crumbling schools.

Paul Theroux tells it like it is. Enough with allowing obscenely rich people to stroke their egos by "raising awareness" through their platitudinous hashtag slogans and photo-ops.

Charity shouldn't be allowed to supplant or replace good public policy and programs.

 Tax the rich. Tax them good and hard.

So much of this charity is nothing but legalized money-laundering. 


Neil Irwin, How Hillary Would Regulate Wall Street:

  Neil Irwin writes that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had less to do with causing the financial crisis than liberals suggest.

Granted, its repeal was not the only cause of the banking collapse. But it was indeed part and parcel of several deregulatory measures spawned by the neoliberal project, of which Bill Clinton was a main architect and enabler.

Besides the Glass-Steagall repeal, he also signed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated credit default swaps. He loosened lending rules via the Community Reinvestment Act, which paved the way for the subprime predatory lending epidemic and the subsequent foreclosure/fraudclosure free-for-all for which the too big to fails not only got a free pass, it made them even richer and bigger.

To be fair to Clinton, the repeal of Glass-Steagall effectively just gave retroactive immunity to Citigroup and other behemoths, who'd essentially been flouting the rules for years.

So bringing back Glass-Steagall would not be the miracle cure for what ails us. It would be far better to follow the advice of Sanders and Warren and just break up the banks as well as bringing back Glass-Steagall. Prosecuting and jailing financial crooks is also a must.

Hillary's nibbling around the edges of an oligarchy gone wild gives aid and comfort to the enemy. You don't hear Wall Street howling with pain over her tepid proposals, do you?

Paul Krugman, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe: 

 Jeb is selling himself as the perfect mattress for coddled corporations and plutocrats seeking sweet dreams for themselves and nightmares for everyone else. Trump is way too hard for their comfort, while Ben Carson's nihilism is soft in the head. Then along comes Jeb to pen a "just right" op-ed. He is that dangerous middle bear of the neoliberal brand. He sounds so darned reasonable the way he prescribes his mayhem.

Of course, regulations are only as good as how stringently they're enforced. This is the age of the deferred prosecution agreement and the slap-on-the-wrist fine. Not one Wall Street CEO has ever been held criminally accountable for frauds so epic that they collapsed the entire global banking system. Not one G.M. executive is being prosecuted for the scores of ignition switch deaths and injuries. If the Justice Dept. now offers a similar sweetheart deal to Volkswagen instead of throwing the prosecutorial book at the individuals who deliberately literally spewed tons of lethal contaminants into the air we all breathe, I think we can then rest assured that the corruption of government is well nigh complete.

When government agencies are headed by industry insiders. even the regulations remaining on the books can become travesties. A white collar criminal defense attorney heads the SEC, Citigroup effectively runs Treasury, and a scientist with deep ties to Big Pharma has just been nominated to head the FDA.

We need a clean-up -- and Howe.


Margaret Sullivan, Readers Will Rule, Says the Times, So Don't Be Shy:

 At the risk of sounding like a broken record (I have asked about this several times without getting a satisfactory response), please consider giving more people with an established history of excellent comments the magical green check mark.

Also, if one of the cute$y ways to double your digital revenue is to cause the page to jump around so much that when I think I am clicking on a chosen article all I get is a grotesque ad for a luxury item I neither want nor can afford, please knock it off! It makes me too nauseous to continue consuming all the wonderful content. It's especially a downer to click on Krugman only to suddenly have David Brooks's latest book report staring you in the face. Not least because it unfairly moves him up on the Most Populuh List.

Finally, I am under no illusion that I am in any way "empowered" by answering this survey. But it definitely #Raises My Awareness. So thanks for asking -:)

(The above comment explains why I have been so remiss lately in contributing to the reader comment sections!) 


Alan B. Krueger, The Minimum Wage: How Much Is Too Much?:

How much is too much, you ask? How about these annual CEO salaries:

David M. Zaslav, Discovery Communications: $156 million.

Mario J. Gabelli, Gamco Investors Inc: $88.5 million.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft: $84.3 million

Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp: $67.2 million

Poor Leonard Bell of Alexion Pharmaceuticals ranks at the rock bottom of the top 100 most highly paid CEOs, at a measly $20.5 million.


What we really need is a federal Maximum Wage Law. When the average CEO makes 350 times as much as the average worker, something is rotten in America. Yet here we have pundits and plutocrats moaning that it wouldn't be fair for hamburger flippers to actually be able to afford hamburger.

Go Bernie.


(Krueger's op-ed, posted early yesterday for the Sunday Review section, seems to be a ready-made centrist talking point for Hillary Clinton in this Tuesday's debate. Did I mention that Krueger just happens to be one of her economic advisers? Neither he nor the Times bothered to mention that little factoid.)


Gail Collins, House Chaos Crisis Inferno:

J.E.B. (John Ellis Bush) cluelessly speaks the truth as he whines that acronyms make no sense. The man himself is obfuscation personified, cravenly hiding behind a trio of initials in hopes of making us forget that he is a Bush. He is a misunderstander who complains about being misunderstood. But, just like his smarter brother George, he greatly misunderestimates the intelligence of the American voter. So don't count him out just yet. Ignorance is strength.

Ryan is another word-gamer. As the living anagram of his dead paramour, selfishness-cult author Ayn R(and), he absolutely deserves to be Speaker. For one thing, Speakers have had an uncanny historical tendency to resign in disgrace or exhaustion. For another thing, he'd no longer have the selfish Randian luxury of hiding his chicanery behind the fictional tripe and cherry-picked numbers and faked footnotes of his annual Budget of Social Darwinism. The Beltway myth of his astonishing wunderkind wonkery would crumble and fall as fast as the bridges and roads and schools that the Republicans refuse to fund.

The GOP has been a debacle for a long time. But the biggest disgraces of  all are the centrist media types who still insist on taking these enemies of the people seriously. For them, the tragedy is not the death of democracy and the corruption of politics by big money: It's that there is no chief inmate in charge of the asylum.

I so look forward to next week's Democratic debate, and the sanity of Bernie Sanders.


(I normally don't comment on Collins's shooting GOP fish in a barrel pieces, but this one is important because she reminds us that the Speaker of the House need not even be an elected member of the House. They can pick anyone they want. Some early nominees include ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Jon Stewart, and the dead Three Stooges. So let your imaginations run as wild as the wild and crazy Freedom Caucus!)