Friday, April 29, 2016

Obama's Bruised Ego Trip

Barack Obama actually seems to be jealous of Bernie Sanders. What cool, suave president wouldn't feel a bit miffed when his rock star status is suddenly usurped by a democratic socialist senator two decades his senior?  No matter that Obama's corporate party has now apparently successfully quashed the Sanders candidacy in order for the Clinton succession to proceed apace. Barack Obama is acting like a sore winner.

It started with a New York Times magazine puff piece of a vehicle through which Obama expresses his disappointment with all the ungrateful folks out there in America who are not sufficiently appreciative of the booming economy he has wrought. And that ingratitude, he says, is not the fault of any of his craptastic policies rewarding Wall Street and punishing Main Street. He magnanimously theorizes that the ingratitude is the result of his team's insufficient bragging in the wake of each and every one of their miraculous  accomplishments. He didn't toot his own horn loudly enough. Misplaced modesty was his enemy, even with the establishment of his own in-house marketing and propaganda shop.

Presidential Style: The Legacy Tour Collection
“We were moving so fast early on that we couldn’t take victory laps. We couldn’t explain everything we were doing. I mean, one day we’re saving the banks; the next day we’re saving the auto industry; the next day we’re trying to see whether we can have some impact on the housing market," he whined to Wall Street pitchman Andrew Ross Sorkin -- who made sure to tell us in the opening paragraphs that he got a coveted ride on Air Force One and several Oval Office invites in exchange for the favorable myth-making. Even more dramatically West-Wingish was the revelation that  the Secret Service was pissed off because  the blooming Obama-Sorkin bromance was interfering with the official schedule.

Jogging Our Memories: Tales of a Lonely Lapper

Obama -- described by Sorkin as "justifiably exasperated" by the vast public ignorance of his awesomeness -- brought down the deficit, fer cryin out loud! The unemployment rate went down with the creation of millions of new low-wage, part-time, temporary service sector jobs. He appointed the Cat Food Commission to make it appear that the rich would "share the sacrifice" with the poor. He gave us nationalized Romneycare, leading to some medical coverage for a small but ethically digestible number of  previously uninsured people.

The Times piece is only the opening salvo in the endless Obama Legacy Tour. The president has been actively lobbying friendly reporters to help him put himself back on center stage, from which he has been unceremoniously nudged stage-right by the presidential horse race. Still, it will be hard for the sloppy seconds to outdo Sorkin, whose journalistic prowess is so majestic that he actually broke through the Obama blood-brain barrier like a mind-reading shunt.
 Obama is animated by a sense that, looking at the world around him, the U.S. economy is in much better shape than the public appreciates, especially when measured against the depths of the financial crisis and the possibility — now rarely even considered — that things could have been much, much worse.
So pay no attention to your own senses. If an "animated" Obama senses from afar that your life is better than you think it is, then it naturally follows that you are naught but an inconsiderate inanimate object. Or, as Obama put it to Sorkin, we are "disoriented." And since we don't know our asses from a hole in the wall, it is perhaps understandable that we fail to sufficiently appreciate his "delicate balancing act."

Obama also took the obligatory jab at Bernie Sanders, whom he accused of speaking of the economy as though it were a mere "abstraction." Although the Sanders plan has only been to break up the largest banks, which own dangerously consolidated assets larger than the GDPs of most countries, Obama falsely accused him of wanting to destroy the entire economy.
But there is no doubt that the financial system is substantially more stable,” he said. “It is true that we have not dismantled the financial system, and in that sense, Bernie Sanders’s critique is correct” — a reference to the Vermont senator and presidential aspirant who regularly calls to break up America’s biggest banks. “But one of the things that I’ve consistently tried to remind myself during the course of my presidency is that the economy is not an abstraction. It’s not something that you can just redesign and break up and put back together again without consequences.
Then again, if you admit that our "economy" has been stealthily replaced by a plutonomy serving the interests only of the very wealthiest, Obama was probably right in acknowledging that Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and the rapacious global corporate and military plunder they enable are just about all that's propping Exceptional America up these days. There would be consequences of a breakup, which after a little initial upheaval, would probably result in a more equitable democratic system. 

Meanwhile, Obama is trying to win back some of the youth vote usurped by Sanders. The most secretive administration in history, led by a president who has been described by James Risen as "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation," suddenly reached out this week to a group of student journalists visiting the White House.

But rather than urging them to afflict the comfortable and demand accountability from government officials, he admonished them to tell their peers to simply vote for more politicians like him (and presumably, Hillary.)

Times White House correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis was dutifully awed by and envious of Obama's awesome engaging with mere student reporters, given that the professional press corps are so into "access" and given that they are so rarely given it.

So Davis stuck with the stenographic semantic playbook of the Legacy Tour:
But it was a student who asked about how to restore Americans’ faith in democracy who provoked the most animated (h/t Andrew Ross Sorkin) response from the president, a former community organizer who campaigned on “hope and change” and has recently lamented his inability to change politics for the better.
After a long discourse on what is broken in politics — gerrymandered districts, a flood of undisclosed campaign contributions and negative advertisements — Mr. Obama cited the low turnout numbers in American elections, especially by young people.
“You can’t just complain; you’ve got to vote,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t let people tell you that what you do doesn’t matter. Don’t give away your power.
Obama ignored the huge, record turnouts at the polls by young Bernie Sanders supporters, both at his campaign rallies and at independent-friendly caucuses and primaries. So I assume that the president's subliminal message to his audience is to resist joining the Bernie Or Bust campaign, or heaven forfend, aid a resurgence of the Occupy movement which was the fuel for the Bernie phenomenon in the first place. Obama wouldn't want to have to call out the troops again so late in his career. It took forever to purge those pepper-spraying cop pics from the Internet.

Don't complain, don't agitate, don't speak out, don't investigate. Just use all your power sparingly: vote. Preferably for Hillary Clinton. And who knows? Maybe a few of you lucky budding journalists will even get the chance to be embedded in one of her inevitable wars. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stuff is All Clumped Up and Stuff

With most modern candidates for high office protecting and serving the interests of the plutocrats regardless of their party, it can become a real challenge for the mainstream media to detect even an inch of ideological space between them.  In the last yawn of a presidential campaign, for example, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were in basic agreement about Social Security (tweak it) and foreign policy. (war, terror, yay!). Romney had a particularly hard time disowning himself from the Affordable Care Act, a/k/a Obamacare, a/k/a Romneycare. Readers might remember that I called that particular team event "Rombama" while others opted for the more whimsical "Obamney."

This year, though, the ideological gap between the two front-runners is actually rather huge. Donald Trump hates women and trade deals. Hillary Clinton loves herself and trade deals. She's even devised a new campaign slogan to prove it: Love Trumps Hate. It's a perfect addition to her other slogan, Fighting for You (FFY, or Double F You).

But they do have three very important traits in common, joining them at head, (degenerating) hip, and tax shelter: Class, Wealth, and Corporate Status. Clinton and Trump may be immense existential liabilities to we the people, but to themselves and their heirs, they are merely limited liability companies.

Clinton + Trump = Clump.

In the interest of bipartisan civility and decorum, Donny and Hill really should consider holding their very first corporate-sponsored debate at 1209 Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. The event could be hyped by the media as sort of a sentimental homecoming for each of them. It would be an extended family reunion, with the long-lost relatives personified in the form of millions of dollars in hidden assets. In between pretend-sniping at one another before a national audience, they can take breaks to spend more family time with their lonely money. Donny can fondle fellow racist Andrew Jackson on clumps of twenties, while Hillary coddles newly cool banker-hipster Alexander Hamilton as she dreams her feminist dreams of Harriet Tubman eventually trumping Jackson and breaking the money ceiling. (But not advancing the dream as far as repealing the welfare reform that dumped millions of women into outright poverty, or goddess forbid, using some of the Harriet Tubman twenties for reparations to descendants of the enslaved.)
Orange Street is kind of a dump of a building right now. But just think about how all that dark money unleashed by Citizens United could transform this money pit every bit as effectively as it has transformed our representative democracy into an oligarchy. If we must be mere spectators at this quadrennial event, we might as well be dazzled by the spectacle.

I can picture it now: After the elite invitees listen to a pop diva singing the National Anthem and they pledge allegiance to the flag, they will all bow their heads in solemn remembrance of Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley, who famously observed that "Only the little people pay taxes." 

  It can be a true family affair, because it turns out that the same corporate persons funding the elections and the debates have also parked their money at the Orange Street Foster Home for Excess Cash. Although it might seem impossible to you that Walmart, Apple, American Airlines, and 285,000 other rich entities could possibly share one cramped dump for all their untaxed billions, we have to remember that this is all about trust: the Corporate Trust Center, to be more precise. You gotta believe!

As reported by The Guardian last week:
Being registered in Delaware lets companies take advantage of strict corporate secrecy rules, business-friendly courts, and the "Delaware Loophole" which can allow companies to legally shift earnings from other states to Delaware, where they are not taxed on non-physical incomes generated outside the state.
See? All that cash can get clumped into one tiny dump because it is not really physical. Tiny Delaware is actually one of the biggest tax avoidance and tax evasion dumps on the entire planet. It's estimated to shelter about $9 billion in untaxed corporate revenue.

The Clump candidates have not explained why they are hiding their cash in Delaware.
Clinton, who has repeatedly promised that as president she will crack down on “outrageous tax havens and loopholes that super-rich people across the world are exploiting in Panama and elsewhere”, collected more than $16m in public speaking fees and book royalties in 2014 through the doors of 1209, according to the Clintons’ tax returns.
Just eight days after stepping down as secretary of state in February 2013, Clinton registered ZFS Holdings LLC at CTC’s offices. Bill Clinton set up WJC LLC, a vehicle to collect his consultation fees, at the same address in 2008.

A spokesman for Clinton said: “ZFS was set up when Secretary Clinton left the State Department as an entity to manage her book and speaking income. No federal, state, or local taxes were saved by the Clintons as a result of this structure.”

The Clintons’ companies share the office with several of Trump’s companies. They include Trump International Management Corp and several companies that form part of Hudson Waterfront Associates, a Trump partnership to develop more than $1bn worth of luxury condos on the west side of Manhattan.
Of course, this makes Hillary the much lesser Clump evil, since Donny has stashed nearly 400 of his "entities" into the Orange Street building. So, while Clinton weasel-words her way out of her hypocrisy by saying that she didn't actually "save" taxes (as opposed to spending her excess profits for taxes) Trump brags about his business acumen. He's doing Delaware a favor. "I pay you a lot of money, folks. I don't feel at all guilty, OK?"

Ironically, the Guardian Media Group publishing this big scoop also has "holdings" stashed away in Delaware.

It's a wonder that the plutocrats can even breathe in such a cramped, clumped atmosphere. The lack of oxygen might be one explanation for the dismal lockstep political coverage this year. The inbreeding of the media-political complex has resulted in the live birth of an intellectually sterile and deformed clump of sponsored content and click-bait coverage.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

No Longer Feeling the Bern

Unless we all join together in a new anti-war movement and demand an end to global American aggression, there can be no political revolution and no real improvement in our lives here at home. 

In a televised town hall appearance last night on MSNBC, self-described Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders doubled down on both his support for President Obama's drone assassination program and for the U.S.'s  continued military escalations in the Middle East. Sanders called the presidential "kill list" perfectly legal, constitutional and necessary. He gave his stamp of approval to Obama's pivot from "no American boots on the ground" in Syria to ordering an additional 250 pairs of them to aid and abet Al Qaeda-linked "rebels" in the fight against ISIS.

Asked by Chris Hayes if he would continue Obama's drone strikes, which to date have killed thousands of innocent civilians ("collateral damage"), Sanders replied: "Look. Terrorism is a very serious issue. There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a lot of right to defend ourselves."

 He added that as long as the extra-judicial executions ordered by politicians and bureaucrats are done in the current "legal, constitutional way" -- as defined by a couple of government lawyers-for-hire --he sees no problem with it.

Regarding this week's new deployment of hundreds more Special Ops troops to Syria, Sanders toed the company line to a fault. These human killing machines are merely acting as "advisers" to "Muslim troops," he insisted.

Sanders also supports the continued, open-ended deployment of 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. He was not asked about, nor did he address, the White House whitewash of the terroristic American bombing of a charity hospital last fall in Kunduz, resulting in the deaths of nearly 50 medical professionals and patients.

Nor did he speak out against the horrific new "rules of engagement" (secretly in effect since last fall) which allow for more civilian casualties in the air wars on Syria and Iraq and wherever else in the world a bomb falls. The Pentagon has quietly revised its standards for how many children can be ethically obliterated in the name of American exceptionalism.

USA Today reports that the generals have devised a handy little sliding scale with which to absolve themselves of any personal responsibility when they decide to bomb people to smithereens. Human beings in war zones are even ascribed a numerical value: "A strike with the potential to wound or  kill several civilians would be permitted if it prevented ISIL fighters from causing further harm."

The newspaper quotes one general celebrating the Obama administration's belated public pivot to hawkishness, likening it to Lyndon Johnson's no holds barred bombing offensives in Vietnam -- where those special advisers also initially only "helped" the South Vietnamese as the "best and the brightest" mission-crept their way into a bloodbath of epic proportions.

So, Bernie Sanders going on TV and spouting the same old platitudes in order to help us to overcome our "sickly inhibitions" about the latest unfettered war is the last straw for me. I am feeling something, all right. I feel like I've been burned. My feelings, of course, are nothing compared to what millions of people "over there" are experiencing as their homes and their bodies get burned to crisps by our leaders' bombs and drones.

As the great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh remarked the other day about the de facto American invasion of Syria, "Nobody ever seems to object too much when we put more people on the ground."

And sadly, that also appears to be the case with Bernie Sanders.  Now that he has virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, he could have seized the moment last night to condemn war instead of embracing it. I'd been willing to pragmatically give him a bit of a pass on his historic lack of pacifism, in hopes that he might be elected and then pressured to ease out of the bellicose mindset. No more.

So enough with the hand-wringing over Hillary the Hawk and Ted Cruz's dastardly desire to carpet-bomb Syrians to death. President Peace Prize is already doing just fine in that department, and even the Empress-in-Waiting's Democratic primary challenger is effectively helping to grease the skids for her seamless transition to power. She'll just be the latest salesperson for Permawar. She'll just be a little more vocal than her smarmy male cohort in her unabashed enjoyment of it.

The invasion of Libya is probably just an election away. Obama, employing his usual lawyerly parsing, doesn't think such a move is necessary right at the moment, since it might send "the wrong signal" to that country's officials and citizens. He apparently doesn't believe that millions of refugees and hundreds of drowned children are not already enough of a signal.  

And as Trevor Timm writes in The Guardian
Libya is now engulfed in chaos and the number of Isis members is skyrocketing, largely thanks to the US and allies bombing the country and overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi five years ago. There are already drones flying over the country and special forces have already been in and out in the past year to conduct special forces missions. You can picture administration members soon arguing: we must invade the country to save it from the last time we bombed it."
Bernie Sanders will not be mounting any third party challenge, he says, because he doesn't want to end up like Ralph Nader. To me, there are worse things than ending up like Ralph Nader. What's worse is being complicit in mass killing.

And anyhow, Ralph Nader ending up like Ralph Nader continues to be a very good thing. He's spearheading (h/t "annenigma") what he calls an "historic civic mobilization" beginning with a four-day strategy session to be held next month at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Participants will receive professional training in how to effect revolution from the ground up, in their own communities.

The third day (May 25) of the Breaking Through Power convention will be exclusively dedicated "to the enhancing of peace over the waging of war."

"Revitalizing the people to assert their sovereignty under our Constitution is critical to the kind of government, economy, environment and culture that will fulfill human potential and respect posterity," Nader says. "The participating citizens will be asked to support the creation of several new organizations. One will be a Secretariat to facilitate action to stop illegal wars and their quagmires (e.g. the wars on Iraq and Libya and their brutal aftermaths)" by some of the same retired military and diplomatic officials and other activists who so stridently protested during the Bush administration before dissent was quieted in the belief and hope that peace would finally be given a chance under the Obama administration. 

I'm feeling the Ralph.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Equivocation You Can Believe In

You may have heard that while our lame duck president has been abroad wining, dining, golfing and making trade and weapons deals with kings, queens and oligarchs, he also took the time to chide the Black Lives Matter movement here at home. Young people having the audacity to show up at campaign fundraisers and rallies to call out the Clintons for their racist rhetoric and the mass incarceration rates they spawned through their crime bill should "stop yelling," admonished Barack Obama.

 No matter that the current president happened to be speaking at a town hall for young Britons, and that he was fresh off a round of golf with the same prime minister who's just been exposed for hoarding a vast portion of his inherited wealth in a tax-free shell company in Panama. There is never an inappropriate time or place when one of the most powerful men in the world gets a hankering to deliver sanctimony to the world's oppressed.

On this side of the pond, American protesters have gotten into shouting matches with both Bill and Hillary Clinton at their campaign events. Over in the U.K, meanwhile, British protesters have been out in the streets, calling for the resignation of David Cameron over the Panama Papers scandal.

Thus did Obama issue his subliminal warning to a whole swath of the transatlantic proletariat: Leave the poor plutocrats alone!

"You can't just keep yelling at them (the Clintons and by implicit extension given the venue, Cameron) and you can't refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position," Obama lectured from high atop his pedestal.

There's that word again: purity. It's that straw-man quality of the left that neoliberals find so peculiarly odious. If you have the audacity to demand that the criminal justice system stop abusing and killing and unfairly imprisoning you and your loved ones right now, this very minute, then you are being unreasonably pure. The ongoing threat to your bodies should not be viewed as an existential emergency or as state terrorism run amok. It should be viewed as just another academic topic for polite discussion with your betters.  If you have the gall to loudly demand swift justice and basic human rights, then you are simply being annoying. And just as bad as that annoying purity, Obama went on, is the  cynicism. Aren't you getting the message that the wage-suppressing, job-destroying free trade deals masking global corporate coups are cause for celebration?

Since the recent police killings of unarmed black people in Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island and elsewhere, Obama has appointed various task forces to study the "issue." He's even invited some BLM activists to the White House for co-optive photo ops. Having been given a temporary "seat at the table," they should have been properly grateful.

 Over in Chicago, site of Obama's future billion-dollar shrine to himself, neoliberal pal Mayor Rahm Emanuel has bared his own pathological pragmatism by refusing to resign after covering up the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. He is most recently showing how open he is to compromise by also ignoring the recommendations contained in a scathing report which proves that the Chicago Police Department is, indeed, institutionally racist.

The mayor is taking the initiative to eventually start making some of the changes to prevent further police murders, eventually:
CITY’S PLAN Eddie Johnson, the new police superintendent, has held “bridge meetings” with residents in recent days and has pledged to continue those. The Chicago police have also started using “restorative justice” to connect officers with young people of different cultures to discuss race, bias and other issues. “Trust is at the heart of good policing, safe communities, and is the central challenge facing Chicago today,” Mr. Johnson said in the mayor’s statement. “These reforms are a down payment on restoring that trust.”
Meanwhile, over at his Saturday event in London, Obama called for young people  protesting at the Clintons' campaign events, and marching against systemic racism, to "be more open" to compromising with their political leaders, even when their trust ratings are in the tank. He was specifically referring to activists who complained about Hillary Clinton's characterization of black youths as "super predators who must be brought to heel" during passage of the 90s-era crime bill, which has had the effect of incarcerating minority citizens in higher numbers than there were slaves in the mid-19th century.  Michelle Alexander has famously dubbed this practice of imprisoning people for relatively minor offenses The New Jim Crow: a modern variation of actual slavery. 

Jim Crow and mass incarceration are "problems" rather than outrages calling for mass outrage, according to Obama: “Too often what I see is wonderful activism that highlights a problem but then people feel so passionately and are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step and say, ‘How do I sit down and try to actually get something done," he said while standing up and waving his finger, the better to be seen and heard all the way across the wide Atlantic.

Obama did what the rich and powerful always do whenever victims of injustice call them to account. They turn around and make themselves out to be the long-suffering victims. The president declared himself ever so sorely miffed at the "harsh tone" of the activists.

During the years of slavery in the United States, the rich and powerful had also urged patience and compromise from those impatient "purists" demanding an immediate end to the ownership of humans by other humans. The abolition movement was also chided for being too rude and too demanding. Even President Lincoln was initially an advocate for incremental change, gradual freedom for the enslaved... until the Purists convinced him otherwise

William Lloyd Garrison, the firebrand founder of the anti-slavery Liberator newspaper, at first went along with the slow and steady advice of political leaders. But in his opening editorial, he apologized for his previous equivocation:
"I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly ask pardon of my God, my country, and my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity....
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice."
Barack Obama: You can't just keep yelling at them!
W. L Garrison: On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen - but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.
Obama: People.... are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step... and sit down.
Garrison: I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
Guess what?  Garrison and the abolition movement stuck a fork in the apathy and they did make the slave-owning plutocrats topple from their pedestals. Lincoln eventually issued his Emancipation Proclamation, but it was the enslaved who effectively freed themselves.

People have always had the power. Now, as then, they are refusing to just sit down, shut up, and wait. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Neoliberalism Kills

In his weekend Vatican speech, Bernie Sanders called for a sweeping moral and anthropological study of the increasingly anti-social U.S. political system and record global wealth inequality. This can't come a moment too soon, because Americans have become so desperate that they are killing themselves in record numbers.

You might not know this unless tragedy has struck you personally. When you turn on the TV, all you hear about are the fortunes of a handful of very rich people vying for public office, or the latest terrorist attack. Suicide makes the headlines only when the guy is wearing a booby-trapped vest, or uses a personal armory to take a bunch of people with him in a blaze of glory. 

When President Obama and other politicians aren't sending their thoughts and prayers and vowing revenge for the latest "incident," they're boasting about how well "we" have weathered the financial crisis, thanks solely to our steely sacrifice and our supreme Grit and Determination. We're relentlessly informed that we're coming back stronger than ever before. The economy is booming! So get off the couch, and go find that ladder of opportunity.

But just in case you still have your doubts after more than seven years of the Obama administration, you should be grateful that at the very least, they're still concern-trolling gender pay inequities and decrying the misogyny of those nasty old Republicans. Even though the Democrats have done diddlysquat to actually force women's pay equality since first using Lilly Ledbetter as a human shield in 2009, they have orchestrated multiple photos of themselves signing proclamations to prove how much they care. I believe the weasel-word they use is "advancement." In other words, the ladies still earn only about 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, but at least the neoliberals are advancing the "conversation" forward. It's incrementalism you can believe in. It's progressively "getting things done" through the use of multiple pens and changes of clothes and slogans.


Recent Proclamation to Mark the 2009 Proclamation

Next month, the White House, in conjunction with its corporate sponsors, will host yet another feminist photo-op, dubbed The United State of Women Summit. It will boastfully serve to showcase all that the Obama administration, with the help of too big to jail Goldman Sachs, has done to "empower" women -- just as Hillary Clinton seeks to become the first XX-chromosomed Commander in Chief. Obama even signed two additional proclamations deigning to recognize the equality of all women, along with a directive to the Labor Secretary politely asking that he politely request employers to divulge their pay scales.

 So what a shocker it is to find out that American citizens, particularly middle-aged women, are not united in passively absorbing this rosy liberal message!

Having suffered more than they can endure via lost jobs, lost homes, precarious and low-wage employment, single motherhood coupled with a lack of affordable child care, rising rents, cuts in food stamp and jobless benefits, substandard or no health care, self-medication and addiction stemming from lack of that health care, too many of them are deciding that the only escape from the unrelenting pain is suicide. They are making the ultimate revolutionary political statement, the only way they know how.

According to a study released today, the suicide rate for women aged 45-64 has jumped by 63 percent over the last 30 years. The starting date of the suicide spike more or less correlates with the advent of neoliberalism, or government of, by, and for the plutocrats. The neoliberal partnership of government and corporations started with the Reagan Revolution in 1984, and was continued by the Clintons, Bush, and now Obama. Hillary Clinton herself boasted in a memoir that she and Bill cut the welfare rolls (by a coincidental 60 percent) in order to "rehabilitate" single mothers, forcing them to work at low-paying jobs and condemning them to lives of hopeless poverty.

The suicide rate for middle-aged men increased by 43 percent. The overall rate has risen by 24 percent since the turn of the century.

And the most shocking - and telling - finding of all is the suicide rate for children, particularly girls between the ages of 10 and 14.  While still rare compared with the adult statistics, kids are now killing themselves at triple the rate within a 15 year time span. In 1999, 50 middle school-aged girls took their own lives. In 2014, that number rose to 150.

From the New York Times (the article was printed below the apparently more important news of the death of rock star Prince, and the breaking news about Donald Trump's friendliness toward gays, paired with propaganda about a new plan to improve the "tone" of his rhetoric):

The (overall) increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.
“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal finances.
Earlier studies pointed to opiate addiction as the leading cause of premature death among less-educated white women. The newer study doesn't differentiate among educational levels in suicide statistics.

Meanwhile, the method of choice among people wanting to kill themselves is now death by suffocation, or hanging.

The newer suicide rates have not reached the intensity of those in the Great Depression, during which the self-killing rate increased by 70 percent. The fact that fewer older people are killing themselves in the 21st century than they were in the 1930s probably has much to do with the safety net of Medicare and Social Security. The Times quotes Dr. Alex Crosby of the Centers for Disease Control as saying that a definite correlation between economic depressions and suicide rates has been proven.

Can there be any clearer evidence that the economy is still in the pits, any clearer message to the Glass Half Full political crowd, than a 63 percent increase in the national suicide rate?

Meanwhile, the deficit hawks in both establishment political parties have been cutting mental health budgets across the board since the financial collapse began disrupting or destroying millions of lives and livelihoods. Even the prestigious National Institutes of Health had its budget for the study and treatment for depression only slightly increased over the past four years, despite mounting evidence of widespread despair in the population.  Depressed individuals are simply unable get the help and treatment they need, even if they want to.

And despite a publicized crackdown on them in Florida, there are still plenty of pill mills all over the country where you can score Oxycontin by the truckload and resell it at a profit to your friends and neighbors in order to make this month's rent. If that's not an option, the price of street heroin has become as affordable as a couple of gallons of gas or a pack of cigarettes.

We need a revolution, all right. Our very lives depend on it.

An exemplar for revolution comes from the vibrant mental health movement in Chicago, where medical professionals and patients have joined forces to protest the shuttering of clinics - conducted in the name of "fiscal responsibility" - by the despised neoliberal mayor, Rahm "One Percent" Emanuel. Mental health should be a basic human right, not a privilege reserved only for the wealthy few able to afford a private therapist.

This mental health movement of Chicago doesn't operate in a vacuum. To say that it works closely with the racial justice, housing justice, immigration justice and labor union initiatives is also an understatement. They all work together, holistically. Revolution comes with the realization that we are all in this together.

 Bernie Sanders might have no chance to win the presidency, but he still has the power of the bully pulpit. He can still be a great moral teacher by urging his followers to join protest movements that are far, far away from the cloying confines of the Democratic machine.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Reality Bites

As expected and as preordained, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have "won" the closed primary election in New York State. The marathon presidential horse race is now entering its final lap. 

But even with the long shots now painfully limping up the backstretch as Donald and Hillary stampede toward the finish line, the profiteers of the game are suddenly bellowing "Whoa, Nelly!" 

Not so fast. 

The show must go on. If they call the race too soon, the rubes will stop placing their bets. The crowds will dwindle, the cameras and the bookies will disappear. The cable channels will have nothing to yammer about while they're sitting around hoping for the next big terror attack or mass shooting. So, the media and the partisans are all getting together today and urging Bernie Sanders and John Kasich to stay in the race till the last advertising dollar rolls in. Those two candidates might be nags compared to the thoroughbred front-runners, but they're still worth mega media bucks right up to the day when the glue factory guy finally shows up.

Even though the contest is fixed and the challengers hobbled before they even got started, this is still the best democracy money can buy in the best of all possible countries. The New York Times, which helped to fix the race in the first place with all that free advertising for Hillary and Donald, has decreed it.

After months of alternately castigating and ignoring Sanders, the Times editorial board has come out with a sanctimonious screed urging him not to quit the race just yet. Since all that Hillary has got going for her is the victim card, she still needs grumpy Bernie to pester her in order to get more sympathy votes from people for whom identity trumps policy. Without the mythical Bernie Bro terriers nipping at her heels as she canters around the track toward the finish line, where would she be? Alone on the trail, that's where, in all her empty pantsuit glory, without so much as a single pearl to clutch. But with Bernie occasionally getting a second wind and threatening to overtake her, she can keep up appearances as Fighter For You with even odds in her run for the poses.

The owners and the trainers and the groomers desperately need Bernie to stick around and eventually morph from gelding into sheepdog, the better to herd the millions of young people so energized by his message into the strict confines of the Democratic veal pen. The guy already is an underdog as well as a nag, but people do love their underdogs.  And the profiteers love the people who love their underdogs, because the people have parted with millions of their dollars to keep this whole underdog thing going. Every time Bernie loses, he makes money! Just think of where all that money could eventually wind up. Ka-ching goes the beat of the DNC's alleged heart.

Therefore in the interest of big money, the Times must now pretend to love an underdog, too.  Run, Bernie, Run! they screech in their most liberal, D-Flat Minor tones: 
Mr. Sanders has always stood more for a vision than for reality, especially with a Republican-led Congress. As he and Mrs. Clinton tore into each other in last week’s debate in Brooklyn, some Democrats worried that the nasty fracas would hurt the party. Others want Mr. Sanders to get out and let Mrs. Clinton focus on the Trump threat.
 Mr. Sanders’s presence has made this an immeasurably more substantive race, in which both candidates’ policies have been better vetted, and as a result, better delineated. That’s the best preparation for the general election. Yes, Mrs. Clinton’s lead is nearly insurmountable, but it should be voters who erase the “nearly.”
Are they magnanimous, or what?

My published response:
 The Times gives the game away with its admonition that Sanders has always been more about "vision" than about "reality."
Whose reality?
The "reality" of which the Times speaks is a manufactured set of rules designed to enrich only the already obscenely wealthy. What the Sanders campaign has revealed to millions of people is the power of the Possible. Possibility can forge its own reality. The terms are not mutually exclusive.
Who, besides the plutocracy, says that we cannot have free public college tuition and government-run single payer health care? As democracy has been whittled away by the malign forces of neoliberalism, too many of us have been cowed into believing that there is no other way but the rule of the market god. We are so alienated that we haven't realized how alienated we have become.
 Don't tell us that it's only the nasty old Republicans preventing the humanitarian Democrats from forging a better life for millions of disenfranchised, dispossessed Americans. The whole rotten system has been exposed for all to see, even those who've been willfully blinded.
I don't know if Bernie has a chance of winning the White House or not. What matters is that the consciousness of a nation has been raised, a solidarity is being forged, and we will refuse to be atomized into a state of helplessness any longer. Just as the Clintons gave birth to neoliberalism, so too may the Clintons officiate over its funeral.
Long live possibility.
Whose reality? Our reality.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sentendo l'ustione*

*Feeling the Bern, Italian-style:

Bernie Sanders had a brief (five-minute) meeting with Pope Francis after all. The Pope couldn't attend the economic conference at which Bernie spoke, because he was otherwise busy comforting Syrian refugees on the Isle of Lesbos, and even ended up rescuing a dozen of them.

I couldn't find video of Bernie's formal address in the Vatican, but a full transcript is here.

This is the part that particularly struck me: 
We need a political analysis as well as a moral and anthropological analysis to understand what has happened since 1991. We can say that with unregulated globalization, a world market economy built on speculative finance burst through the legal, political, and moral constraints that had once served to protect the common good. In my country, home of the world’s largest financial markets, globalization was used as a pretext to deregulate the banks, ending decades of legal protections for working people and small businesses. Politicians joined hands with the leading bankers to allow the banks to become “too big to fail.” The result: eight years ago the American economy and much of the world was plunged into the worst economic decline since the 1930s. Working people lost their jobs, their homes and their savings, while the government bailed out the banks.
Sanders is calling for a philosophical and anthropological analysis of greed. He is calling for a scientific inquiry into what makes plutocrats tick. He is going so far beyond the usual political platitudes that turn so many people off during the endless presidential horse-race. What he is calling for is unprecedented in American politics.

And it is a vital necessity. The whole planet is burning and melting. Una senzione di bruciore!

But it's no surprise that our corporate media are concentrating mainly on his meeting with Pope Francis, (would he or wouldn't he?) the cost of his chartered flight to Rome, his entourage, his itinerary, his tax returns.... and last but not least, the massive hand-wringing concern over his abandonment of the campaign trail right in the middle of a fraught primary contest in the wealth inequality capital of the universe: New York City. 

Hillary, meanwhile, was on her own greed trail, heading to California for that George Clooney fundraiser, where a seat at the head table was going for nearly twice what Sanders earns in an entire year. It was even going for about a third more than than one of Hillary's secret quarter-million dollar Goldman Sachs speeches.  Where are the anthropologists to do a study on just that one grotesque pattern of wealth culture alone? Forget Coming of Age in Samoa! We need a passel of Margaret Meads and Ruth Benedicts to settle themselves among the billionaires for some heavy-duty insight into their folkways, customs, status symbols and tribal psychology. How much does it really cost a Hollywood chieftain to score the ambassadorship to the Court of St. James?  What makes these people tick?  Because one thing's for sure: it's their group behavior that's making the rest of the world so damned sick.

(I can't verify this because of all the white noise emanating from the event, but I've heard rumors that the underpaid temporary wait staff added candied Diavolo Sterco to the dessert tray at the Clooney confab.)  

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Dodgers Return to Brooklyn

I'll be honest. My brain started tuning out last night's Democratic debate after about three innings. The first strikeout came when Bernie was asked if he could name one example of Hillary Clinton changing her vote as a result of a corporate donation. He bungled it big-time. He popped a high fly out into right field, where it hovered in the air harmlessly before plunking smack dab into Hillary's placid, waiting mitt.
DANA BASH (CNN moderator) : Senator Sanders, you have consistently criticized Secretary Clinton for accepting money from Wall Street. Can you name one decision that she made as senator that shows that he favored banks because of the money she received? 
SANDERS: Sure. Sure. The obvious decision is when the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of wall street brought this country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Recession -- the Great Depression of the '30s, when millions of people lost their jobs, and their homes, and their life savings, the obvious response to that is that you've got a bunch of fraudulent operators and that they have got to be broken up.

That was my view way back, and I introduced legislation to do that. Now, Secretary Clinton was busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs for $225,000 a speech.

SANDERS: So the problem response -- the proper response in my view is we should break them up. And that's what my legislation does.

CLINTON: Well, you can tell, Dana, he cannot come up with any example, because there is no example.

 Why didn't he bring up the bankruptcy bill?

When Hillary was first lady, she sided with Elizabeth Warren and got Bill to veto some bank-friendly legislation which would have made it almost impossible for working families to declare personal bankruptcy, largely stemming from medical debt.

When Hillary became New York senator, she did an about-face and in 2001 voted for the bill - immediately after receiving hefty contributions from the same banks and credit card companies which demanded that struggling consumers be kept in onerous debt for the rest of their lives. As Warren wrote in The Two Income Trap:
 "The bill was the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not. As First Lady, Mrs. Clinton had been persuaded that the bill was bad for families, and she was willing to fight for her beliefs. Her husband was a lame duck at the time he vetoed the bill; he could afford to forgo future campaign contributions. As New York's newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton  could not afford such a principled position. Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn't coming from families in financial trouble."
This was the smoking gun, the quid pro quo that Clinton has always denied exists. It does exist.

Not that political corruption and legalized bribery require a quid pro quo, by any means. Wealthy donors aren't paying for immediate favors. They are investing for the future -- a future of tax exemptions, corporate welfare, and a get out of jail free card with no expiration date.

Bernie was great at the sarcasm and the yelling, but not so great at digging up facts and answering questions directly. He often spoke over the moderators as Hillary just calmly stood there, grim smirk on her face, only occasionally needing to mar her calm demeanor with her trademark derisive cackle.

Both of them are artful dodgers of questions, because both of them are seasoned politicians. Both of them also looked like I feel: tired, cranky, and old. How can't they stand each other? Let us count the ways.

Hillary got knuckle-balled and beaned badly on those Wall Street speeches. She still offers no good explanation for not releasing them because even she, slick fielder that she is, can't come up with one good fake reason for not releasing them. For example, she could have said she lost them the same way she mysteriously misplaced those Rose Law Firm docs all those years ago.

Bernie twisted her into a soggy pretzel over whether she would or would not raise the cap on Social Security FICA contributions. He also did a good job exposing her bloodthirsty Neocon foreign policy (even Obama opposes her suggestion of a no-fly zone over Syria.)

 Bernie was supposed to release his 2014 tax returns today, because Jane apparently has finally found the time to log onto TurboTax. He still can't locate earlier returns, though. Like most of us shlubs, I suspect he probably lost his only tattered coffee-stained copies in the circular file.

With Clinton's spit balls and Bernie's unforced errors, the popcorn is beginning to taste a tad stale. But I'll root root root for the Brooklyn homeboy anyhow. If we don't win, what a shame. Then again, if Hillary is allowed to steal home because of a rigged electoral game, she can't very well call it a championship season either. Heads she wins, tails we all lose. The tickets to the Neoliberal Hall of Fame are way out of our price range.

The Everywoman Look (a Mary Poppins Original)


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Party Like It's 2016

The modern Establishment has been weirdly successful in getting Americans to believe that even though we live in an oligarchy, there's still enough democracy left to make sure that every vote counts.

Not this year, though. Two upstart candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, are knocking that supposition for one big loop. Citizen-consumers are discovering that our "democratic" system has very sneaky, fail-safe ways of purging unwanted candidates from its private Duopoly. Of course, the outsiders are not being imprisoned or vaporized  as they would be in blatantly totalitarian regimes. In our system  -- which the late Sheldon Wolin  dubbed "inverted totalitarianism" -- the purging is accomplished through more subtle, but still ham-fisted, means.

Methods to the madness are employed by the method actors of the media-political complex.  Six major corporations control 90 percent of all disseminated content, in TV, movies and print. Access to the powerful has become more important than holding the powerful to account. When ownership becomes more consolidated, public accountability slides down the memory hole.

 Then there's the authoritarian infrastructure of the parties themselves. Super-delegates are given weighted votes in order to prevent gains by independent or grassroots candidates. The public-spirited League of Women Voters no longer controls the general election debates. A privately funded and owned commission does that now. The previews of primary town halls and televised bicker-fests are controlled by the parties themselves,  and they're sponsored by the corporate-funded networks. The GOP has held too many, while the Democrats have held too few. But the ads are legion. The ratings are high and the record profits are beyond the wildest dreams of the owners.

 And finally, there is the ever increasing influence of the direct cash "gifts" to the candidates. It now costs more than a billion dollars to run for president. And the ultra-rich who foot the bill, as Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have established, usually get what they want from the candidates they fund. No matter that the majority of us want expanded Social Security and universal health care. Since the rich do not want or need these benefits, the good life is not to be had by anyone but themselves. The richer that people get, the more paranoid they seem to become about some poor person stealing even the tiniest morsel from their dinner plates.

The fact that billionaire Trump is (allegedly) self-funding his campaign, and millions of ordinary people really are funding Bernie's is more of a direct challenge to Citizens United than any public interest group could ever have imagined. Money has finally arrived as a major campaign theme for perhaps the first time since bribery was legalized by the Supreme Court. And Big Money is not too happy about all this sunlight. It threatens to disinfect the whole sordid process.

Ballots aren't the only things that are weighted. Even sincere, popular, and legitimately elected politicians are prone to forget the voters once they are safely esconced in office. The corporate-controlled shadow governments of the CIA and the NSA and the Pentagon come knocking at the Oval Office door on Day One, extending their tentacles to give a welcoming squeeze and an offer the new dude cannot possibly refuse. Then there are the armies of lobbyists, euphemized as "consultants." These militarists and operatives are also regular guests on the corporate talk shows, the better to spread the propaganda and the news stories within the extremely narrow parameters which the ruling class allows.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders still presents a threat to the status quo, as the bigwigs strive to limit him, despite a recent slew of wins, to the bit part of the far-out fringe-dweller challenging Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, once so inordinately elevated and showcased by the greedy media at rallies which sometimes resemble violent racial cleansing sites, suddenly finds his own racist self on the receiving end of an attempted purge. First, the elites pretended to be disgusted by the guy as he raked in the bucks for them. Now, they pretend to realize that their spectacle has gone on for way too long. Why? Because  the corporations funding the politics are beginning to withdraw their brands and money from a potentially violent brokered convention. The delegates might even get denied their complimentary cans of Coke.

Trump's own children can't even vote for him in New York's closed primary next week. Anyone who forgot to change his party affiliation before an arbitrary deadline expiring many months ago will not be permitted to vote. This punishes the independents who have elected Bernie Sanders in eight out of the last nine contests, but it will also depress turnout from Trump fans who are not registered Republicans. This scenario especially rewards Hillary Clinton, whose main support in the state comes from older, registered Democrats.

Party elders did forget, though, to bar never-registered young people, who were given more time to pose as members of either party in order to participate in New York's election. So we shall see.

Even in a democracy, political parties were never meant to be democratic. I've written before about French philosopher Simone Weil's call (immediately post-Hitler) to abolish all political parties. Parties exist for purely selfish reasons: to grow without end, to gain new consumers, and to make tons of money.

 Nothing in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights says anything about citizens having to elect representatives from within the confines of parties.

Tellingly, it was the post-French Revolution Reign of Terror that spawned the modern political party system. So is it any surprise that variations on the fear factor are always on the platforms of both Republicans and Democrats? The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on women, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.... and guns, guns and more guns -- the controlling of them, the wearing of them, the proliferation of them. Where would American political parties be without violence and paranoia as the glue holding the teetering duopoly together?

The three characteristics of political parties that Simone Weil outlined 70 years ago apply just as well to the modern Democratic and Republican machines:
1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.
2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.
3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. 
She continued:
Because of these three characteristics, every party is totalitarian - potentially and by aspiration. If one party is not actually totalitarian, it is simply because those parties that surround it are no less so....
No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he belong to one) his own.
People are generally reluctant to acknowledge such a thing. If they were to confess it, they would naively be inclined to attribute their incapacity to their own intellectual limitations, whereas, in fact, the very phrase 'a political party's doctrine' cannot have any meaning.
An individual, even if he spends his entire life writing and pondering problems of ideas, only rarely elaborates a doctrine. A group of people can never do so. A doctrine cannot be a collective product.
Extrapolating from those words of wisdom, it is thus patently dishonest for "party elders" to claim that the current popular outsider candidates are not a Real Republican or a Real Democrat. There is no such thing.

And, given the totalitarian nature of the two-party system in the United States, it really is something of a miracle that two outsider candidates have turned the tables and essentially co-opted them, instead of the other way around.

Maybe there's life in the old Democratic gal yet. Maybe the Duopoly is on the way to the dustbin of history.