Monday, January 1, 2018

Neoliberal New Year: Goody Bags For the Homeless

The best part of the New Year for me so far is that the flood of fundraising appeals from political organizations and parties and charities has suddenly dried right up, virtually overnight. Especially annoying were those hysterical come-ons promising that my monetary gift would be triple-matched by some mystery mogul. If I didn't give, the implication was, this pathocratic jerk would just keep hoarding his excess cash out of pure, miserable spite.

Even more annoying than the year-end money grubs were the false pretenses under which the money was being grubbed. And out of the hundreds of appeals I've received over the past few weeks, none was more disgusting than the mawkish missive I received from former president Barack Obama.

In this cruel winter of brutal cold, with homelessness and opioid addiction reaching record levels, Obama took some time out from his umpteenth tropical vacation to thaw out the hearts of his donors with his own award-winning brand of contagious inspiration.

If you ever listened to his insipid weekly addresses to the nation during his  eight-year tenure, you should know the formula by now.  It always starts out with the obligatory gushy gaslighting - since life is so good and optimistic for him, then it naturally follows that it has to be good for you, too. If you're not solidly in the middle class, then at least you can aspire to membership by dint of hard work and magical thinking. Pay no attention to the harsh realities surrounding you, lest you become jaded. The dismal results of austerity for the masses and riches for the rich are mere "challenges" to be confronted with the same old piecemeal solutions contained in shiny new gift-wrap.

There will apparently never be an end to his victim-shaming, financialized way of seeing things, aptly described by Adolph Reed, Jr. as a "vacuous-to-repressive" worldview. Obama writes in his latest email to potential donors:
I know optimism isn't always fashionable. Certainly not when we're fed a steady stream of cynicism on television and an on social media. We face some extraordinary challenges, but consider the long view. If you think about it, by almost every measure, America and the world are better off than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago.
(And they still wonder why Hillary "America Is Good Because America is Great" Clinton lost to the cruel but occasionally brutally honest Donald Trump?  Of course, in politician-speak, "America" is code for the Plutonomy, which is indeed better off than ever before, at the expense of the rest of us.)

But because Obama was the first cosmetically Black person to be elected president, it just naturally follows that all Black people are better off as a result, despite the fact that they became much worse off during his tenure. Still, he blithely reassures his wealthy potential donors that because they elevated the first technically Black person to the presidency, there's no need to worry their coddled little heads about the rest of the Black population. He avoids the obvious truth: that the Owner Class has always allowed a few women and people of color to advance as a way of keeping white supremacy and wealth inequality alive and well and immune from liberal criticism:
I was born at a time when women and people of color were systematically, routinely excluded from huge portions of American (read: plutocracy) life.. Today women and minorities are rising up in the ranks of business, politics and everywhere else. That's just one of the significant shifts we've seen And when you measure it against the scope of human history - it happened in an instant!
Since Gilens and Page established that the wealthy donor class, as a group, are adamantly opposed to government spending on social programs, health care, and public education, Obama willingly feeds this gilded age pathology by denying reality every bit as viciously as his faux-nemesis, Donald J. Trump. In a time of rising death rates in this country, deaths due to outright despair and rank poverty, Obama actually schmoozes:
Around the world, we live at a time when fewer people are dying young and more people are not only living longer, but better.
Remember that Obama is talking to the wealthy donor class. I doubt that many of the world's poor people got to read his Happy New Year telegram. They not only don't have the Internet, they often don't even have electricity (like half of Puerto Rico), or are otherwise occupied fleeing violence or scavenging for food. But maybe they will rise up eventually, though not in the mawkish way that Obama pretends to envision.

The fact is that more people are living short, nasty, brutish lives. Obama seems to be cherry-picking his happy statistics in order to make his donors feel better about their own unfair share of the pie. To make a terrible situation look good, corporation-beholden entities like the World Bank measure income inequality when they should be measuring wealth inequality. Also, the very definition of poverty has been diluted down to make things seem rosier than they really are. Even though poverty has been steadily increasing over the last several decades, the actual number of poor people is artificially decreasing, thanks to capitalistic measurement tools based upon bullshit rather than upon math. The United Nations' Millennium Campaign, for example, currently defines extreme poverty as living on a dollar a day. In actuality, though, in such rich countries as the US, people who scrape by on $2 cash a day are correctly defined as being extremely poor. As a matter of fact, the US government itself calculated more than a decade ago that people needed at least $4.50 a day to meet even basic minimum nutrition requirements.

Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics calls the baseline poverty definition used by Obama and his neoliberal cohort absurdly unrealistic. If Obama used honest parameters, though, he'd have have to admit that at least 80 percent of the world's population now lives in abject poverty. And that might make the rich greedsters feel very poorly about themselves. So poorly, in fact, that they might not give their unearned and untaxed wealth to the tax-exempt Obama Foundation for Oligarchic Feel-Goodery.

Family-Friendly Brutalism

So to prove that this is the best of all possible worlds, Obama offers three anecdotes about the sunny side of Dystopia. Two of his stories involve the oppressed helping the oppressed in order to achieve the desired inspiring level of Bootstrapping Nirvana. And, because tax-dodging philanthrocapitalism is the solution of last resort as social programs get cut and slashed by the oligarch-run government, Obama also gushes over a multimillionaire sports star who is donating his paychecks to fund scholarships for a whole new generation of Baracks and Michelles.

Concerned about the epidemic of homelessness? Don't be. Who needs a roof over one's head when one can be blessed with goody bags? Obama writes:
At five years old, Jahkil Jackson had witnessed the struggles of Chicago's homeless when his aunt took him to Lower Wacker Drive to hand out food to those camped there. He found himself restless, wanting to do more. With a spark of inspiration and the help of his family, Jahkil created Blessing Bags - kits full of socks, toiletries and snacks that he could offer to those in need.
"Let them eat goody bags" is so much more heartwarming than Trump's heartless "let them eat paper towels" response to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, is it not?

Now, to be fair to Obama, he is just echoing the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless's own piecemeal solutions to the lack of permanent affordable housing for poor people. Perhaps (I think cynically to myself) with the windfall profits from their new permanent tax breaks, such corporate sponsors as JP Morgan Chase can build some actual houses for the homeless, rather than continuing to corner the market on the same homes they foreclosed (often illegally) during Obama's tenure.

If you happen to be among the millions of people devastated by last year's record storms and fires, Obama doesn't want you to complain about how slow and meager the response from Trump's government has been.  Instead, we must follow the example of the Houston wedding planner who, rather than waste a whole banquet, helped the bride to distribute all that excess food around the neighborhood. Why hector your congress critters for actual monetary aid and government help when you can augment your wedding planning business by starting your own Facebook page to organize debris-clearing parties, and then dub it "Recovery Houston?" It certainly gets FEMA off the hook.

Are you a rich athlete who's making out like a bandit from Trump's tax cuts?  Then aspire to be like Philadelphia linebacker Chris Long, and donate some of your paychecks to fund a few scholarships, and thereby tamp down both racist hate and all that unicorny talk of free college from the likes of Bernie Sanders.

Barack Obama, that glib and glittering neoliberal tool of Wall Street, is retooling himself as an international goodwill ambassador of continuing austerity for the many and prosperity for the few. Rather than demand more generous government disaster aid, construction of public housing, and an end to lifetimes full of crushing student debt, he's simply continuing to do what what he did as president. He is calling for tiny symbolic gestures and using his own celebrity persona as a beacon of hope and inspiration. He is continuing his career as a consummate bullshitter.

Taking this inspirational bullshitting journey with Barack Obama will cost a lot of money. Therefore, rather than direct private or public cash aid to the poor and vulnerable, Barack Obama wants the money to be sent directly to him, to fund his continued lecturing to the poor and minorities, but mainly for the construction a $500 million shrine to himself in Chicago, complete with golf course. "Transaction fees" to cover your digital donations will be extra. Besides boring old cash and checks, wire transfers will also be cheerfully accepted - not least because, just like Obama's fantastical list of global recovery improvements, they "happen in an instant." Especially during this latest stock market bubble, there's no need to even redeem any your marketable securities. For your full tax-deductible convenience, just have your broker or your private wealth manager fill out the paperwork so that both you and Obama can get the most bang for your charity buck.


My own New Year's resolution, as I enter my eighth year of blogging, is to do my best to keep exposing neoliberalism as the deadly germ warfare of rich versus poor that it truly is.

So... here's to a realistically hopeful and happy 2018 to everybody except the billionaires, the Trumps, the Clintons, the Bushes, the Obamas, the corporate media, the military-industrial complex, and most members of Congress.


Bill Sprague said...

This is all to true. And all the christmas robocalls? they dried up overnight, too. christmas is a boileroom holiday, too! Give me your money, honey! don't give it to the homeless. I mean, come on...

Kat said...

Why "technically" or "cosmetically" black?

Kat said...

I am reminded of this piece when there was all that nonsensical hue and cry over Rachel Dolezal: (by Adolph Reed)

Jay–Ottawa said...

"Why "technically" or "cosmetically" black?"

No doubt, I'll make a technical misstep along the way, despite all my cosmetic attempts to be politically correct yet close to the line, and be outed as a racist for venturing into Kat's challenge. Here goes anyway.

Isn't it commonly known (and generally accepted for some odd reason) that if one of your parents is Caucasian and the other Negroid, you would usually be categorized by US bureaucrats as black, unless of course you are so light skinned you opt to "pass." But woe unto you if a nosy researcher discovered one drop of black blood in your line, at which point you would be shoved back into the black box.

Under the same circumstances in Latin America you would be regarded, at least unofficially, as a mulatto. When was the last time Obama was described as a mulatto in the press, mainstream or underground? Technically, according to US bureaucratic standards, he should keep checking off the "black" box on all those forms.

Jews, in what is important to most of their religious cultural thinkers, have refined the categories more finely. If your father is Jewish but your mother a gentile, technically you are not considered a Jew. Jewishness is transferred to the next generation via mothers, not fathers. If we were to apply the same standard for Obama, he is technically white because his mother was white.

As for Obama being "cosmetically" Black, think of the disparaging metaphor: Oreo. Black on the outside, white on the inside. Haven't we been reading reports for the past ten years showing how Obama took great care to distance himself from identification with the black community, preferring to side with white elites and rarely blacks, whether they were elite, middle class or poor. And why was that? Because he declared himself the president of ALL Americans. And he did so much for ALL Americans. Right.

A few trips a month to Black Agenda Report over the years made it clear to me that "cosmetically" and "technically" apply to "our first black president." But maybe BAR is a racist front that has led me astray.

Here's another term that applies to Obama, whether you're white or black or whatever. It's what came first to my mind within days of Obama's takeover of the Oval Office. You see, I was one of the stupid people who had worked for Obama and discovered I had been euchred by his campaign lies of 2008. Seemed to me during the campaign he was on the side of justice, peace and a more fair redistribution of this country's wealth. The term I and many others came up with is color neutral: Betrayal.

No matter that Herod with his soldiers' swords comes in second far behind Obama and his drones. We should still applaud as Obama glides by, unruffled, smiling, never apologetic for his crimes. Otherwise, we'll be called racist.

Pearl said...

Jay I would like to thank you for your correct portrayal of Obama's place in history.
I also supported his running and followed the health care issues closely along with his promises, found his immediate handing over of all health care organizations to the insurers a sign of what was to come. It was quickly followed by other such appointments to his administration and I also called him a betrayer. This issue was also followed by Nancy Pelosi's response to a question about where options of public health care choices had gone by making a grand gesture of sweeping items off a nearby table with suitable comment. I never trusted her again either. His book about his father also portrayed black friends who wanted to change the system as troublemakers when he was a teenager
trying to organize his life for the future.

Kat said...

Why did you feel that way about candidate Obama? To me he seemed like a blank slate and I really didn't feel that he was any different than Hillary.It did not seem to me that he staked out any policy positions entirely at odds with Hillary's.
I like BAR, but I would disagree with the assertion that he is not really black. It doesn't comport with my experience in the world. Black people have a wide variety of interests and opinions just as whites do. I don't think there is a way to be "authentically black". Who would you describe as technically white?
I don't think Obama made an effort to disassociate from black people either.

Anonymous said...

We should still applaud as Obama glides by, unruffled, smiling, never apologetic for his crimes Otherwise, we'll be called racist.
Don't you think this statement is a bit of a contradiction if you insist that Obama is only technically black?

Karen Garcia said...

Jay is right.

Obama himself admitted, via the Dave Maraniss bio, that his dark pigmentation worked both to his advantage and to his disadvantage. Advantage was that liberals would ascribe any and all criticism of him to racism, whether it came unfairly from the right or fairly from the left. Disadvantage, because racism is real and his presidency brought a lot of the suppressed ugliness out into the open.

Race is a capitalistic, social construct. It will be a never-ending problem in the US because of our legacy of human enslavement. Eventually all the races will blend together, and this is what's bringing the closet racists out in to the open, their paranoia enhanced by Trump's provocations.

Also, Obama spent most of his childhood in Hawaii, which is already racial melting pot, and was educated privately. During his sojourn in Indonesia, his well-to-do household employed several servants. He did not live the American "black experience", to the extent there even is such a monolithic thing, until his personality was already well-formed and mature.

Cornel West rightly called Obama "Wall Street's black mascot."

Kat said...

I do very much agree that race is a social construct. I know of his privileged background. I don't believe that there is any one "black experience" and I have known black people from much less advantaged backgrounds that approve of his dressing down of certain groups of black citizens.
I don't think Jay is right.

Kat said...

not sure how the Cornel West quote bolsters the argument. I don't agree with the assertion that Obama is "white on the inside" and still believe that Obama was Wall Street's lapdog. I just don't subscribe to some idea of white or black essentialism.

Jay–Ottawa said...

It isn't easy, Kate, to understand your point, whether from your original question or your last post. Am I misunderstanding you when I gather that you believe Obama acted nobly when he had power, whether with respect to Wall Street or the worsening plight of blacks?

No one is asking you to subscribe to black essentialism. The fundamental issue is class essentialism. Would you subscribe to that?

For my part, I believe there's a class war underway in the US and around the world. Class essentialism explains economic disparity, the corruption of American politics, the endless wars, and the destruction of our planet. Obama has made it crystal clear what side he was on, which is not where the majority of Americans find themselves, nor the majority of blacks.

Obama identifies with rich elites, West with the poor. Money, not pigment, rules the world and explains so much, whether in an all white country, a mixed country (US), a brown country (Latin America), a black country (Africa), or a yellow one (the Far East). Racism is real in some of those lands but just another wart on the disfigurement of our humanity by class war.

Obama promised to turn things around. He flashed the black card only when it suited him. Then, after gaining power, he hid that black card deep in his back pocket. Through underhanded action and deft omission over eight years, he served the elites by helping to widen the disparities, further hobbling the Constitution, and waging even more war. He turned out to be a fake progressive, a fake man of peace, and a fake black (i.e., one who identified with African-Americans and worked to relieve their disproportionate suffering). Are you trying to tell us this interpretation of Obama just ain't so?

Jay–Ottawa said...

To clarify: (a real black being one who identified with African-Americans and worked to relieve their disproportionate suffering).

Will said...

Barack Obama will be David Letterman's first guest on his new Netflix show premiering January 12th. Maybe we can all watch it together at Jay's house. I'll bring the popcorn.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Don't have TV. Sorry. Oh wait, even if I did I would boycott DL for no other reason he's giving BO more hot air time. Come over, anyway. I've got a popcorn machine and lots of comfy chairs.

Kat said...

Yes, you are misunderstanding me. I am curious how you came to the conclusion that I feel Obama acted with noble intentions.

Kat said...

What I am saying is that I don't find it particularly useful to say Obama is "white on the inside". Is there some fundamental trait that makes you white (besides the color of your skin)?
I believe in class as an organizing principle. No, this is not because I believe classism is more pernicious than racism or whatever. Class describes a relation to the means of production that race doesn't.

Erik Roth said...

Parsing 50 shades of black suggests this remark by Martin Luther King, Jr. --

"Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations."

Racial discrimination is the rationale excusing exploitation, and provides the basis for subordination and class war. Ultimately, that is what it's all about, personal power and private wealth.
It stems from a consciousness where "in possession of" is deemed the goal as a Manifest Destiny, rather than recognizing that being "in relation to" is actually the essence of all life.

Now as for Barack Obama, he had the audacity to sucker America into having hope in his promise for a change.
On November 24, 2008, "Time Magazine" featured the newly elected president on its cover at the wheel of a convertible, sporting a cigarette holder between his grinning teeth, resembling FDR, with the caption "The New New Deal."
Well, the very first sleep-over guest when Obama took residence in the White House was Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. By that we saw the fix was in, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The litany of subsequent disappointment and bitter betrayal by Obama need not be repeated here. Ms. Garcia has described that in all its disgusting detail, and exposed the enablers in the duopoly perpetuating the oppressive status quo.

Regarding those, note this excerpt from the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. --

"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler (sic) or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

Warren Buffett has asserted that the 1% are waging and winning a class war.
But there's fitting irony in the long arc of history that now is seen in the rising rumble coming from Native Americans, as land and water protectors, and prophets preaching of a higher consciousness.
So, the class war is not over, and the warriors on the front are not moderates.