Monday, August 31, 2020

Black and Blue In America

Culture wars which pit various factions of the poor and working classes against one other are almost always created by and waged for the ultimate benefit of the oppressive oligarchy.

That is why the Movement For a People's Party, whose 4+-hour streamed convention on Sunday was trending at #2 on Twitter, is receiving so little media coverage. It's the bloody and sometimes lethal street battles between social justice protesters and right-wing militias in a few US cities that are gobbling up all the headlines. 

It's as though a story about the burgeoning solidarity among regular people must not be allowed to take attention away from the professional marketing of fear. The increasing numbers of people who are refusing to succumb to fear and hatred of the "other," and who are also taking steps to politically organize themselves outside the confines of the two-party system strikes fear into the heart of the ruling class.

If all we hear about are Trump's tweets, and tut-tutting punditry about Black on Black violence, Black on White Violence, White on Black Violence, White on White Violence, Antifa and QAnon Violence, the propaganda about Russian Interference in Our Democracy, it just sucks us into their divide-and-conquer program and deflects our attention away from the real war, the violent class war of the Rich against the rest of us.

It tries to transform our fear of Covid-19 into fear of the Other. It tries to redirect our rational anger about the failure of the corrupt political duopoly, to both prevent disease outbreaks and to ameliorate the devastating social and economic effects of the pandemic, onto one or the other of the senile presidential candidates. The ruling "donor" class, through its political operatives, has made the conscious choice to abandon tens of millions of vulnerable people to needless suffering and death, while Wall Street posts record gains.

So, who are you going to vote for, Trump or Biden? Which side are you on - Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter? By presenting us with such limited choices and bemoaning the "divisiveness" without exploring the longstanding, underlying causes of it, maybe the Duopoly can lull us or scare us into thinking that we have no choice at all. And that it's all our fault.

For starters, one thing we should keep in mind is that protest-busting cops function as the hired weaponized buffer zone between citizens and the ruling class. The fact that America's municipal police forces have been become increasingly militarized in recent decades, with even small town departments now heavily fortified with tanks, drones and grenade launchers, is testament to the essential brutality of thst real war, the class war of the rich versus the rest of us. The oligarchic forces, be they Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, DEA, ICE, National Guard, Homeland Security, Border Patrol or cops on the beat, are mainly comprised of working class people from the same distressed communities where "civilian" jobs have been destroyed by the cruel ravages of neoliberal capitalism and its corporation-serving "free trade" deals. All you need to achieve the  American Dream of a secure job and a decent wage is a gun, a uniform, and a pension -which may or may not be there for you once Wall Street gets done fiddling with it.

Donald Trump does not, of course,  give one single damn about either police officers or about the marginalized assault rifle-toting vigilantes acting in his name and upon his inflammatory tweeted instructions. Nor do Joe Biden and Kamala Harris give one solitary damn about the Black victims of the police violence and privatized prison gulags which they have funded and championed and overseen their entire political lives. Cops, vigilantes and protesters: they are but interchangeable pawns and props and scapegoats in the cynical power game.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose $50 billion-plus personal fortune makes him one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, did in fact boast that "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world."

This man, an honored prime time speaker at the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago, had launched his own ill-fated run for the presidency last year by apologizing for using this private army to racially profile ("stop and frisk") Black and Brown men in record, relentless numbers for the crime of merely existing. His neofascist policy, eventually declared unconstitutional, was what really "inflamed tensions" between communities and the private army acting at the behest of Bloomberg and the other lords of capital. These armed forces were not a few "bad apples," These were regimented troops under strict orders to fill a quota imposed by a racist billionaire mayor and even funded by some of the same corporations now trying to make a cynical buck off the Black Lives Matter movement.

It was unsurprising, therefore, when the New York City police union blasted Bloomberg for the fake apology he offered in the standard venue beloved of any pandering Democratic politician worth his salt - a Black church.
“Mayor Bloomberg could have saved himself this apology if he had just listened to the police officers on the street,” said the union’s president, Patrick Lynch. “We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities. His administration’s misguided policy inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence, and stripped away many of the tools we had used to keep New Yorkers safe.”
That's all well and good. But I'm waiting for that magical day when the cops in riot gear being deployed all across America to quash the biggest protest movement in US history finally do the right thing. I hope they do what Tsar Nicholas II's own private army did during the March 1917 mass demonstrations against that particular authoritarian regime. I'm waiting for them to mutiny, to put down their arms and their tear gas canisters, and to take the side of the protesters.

How long can it humanly take before sheriff's deputies and city marshals get disgusted enough to side with their own neighbors and refuse to serve millions of landlords' warrants on all the renters facing eviction this year because Congress has refused to offer emergency relief to them?

Matthew Desmond writes in the New York Times that
Marshals that carry out evictions are full of suicide stories: the early morning rap on the door followed by a single gunshot from inside the apartment, the blunt sound of giving up. From 2005 to 2010, years when housing costs were soaring across the country, suicides attributed to eviction and foreclosure doubled.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control has revealed that the stress of the pandemic caused one out of every four young adults to seriously contemplate killing themselves within the past 30 days. Unpaid caregivers, essential workers, and Black and Brown people also reported harboring suicidal thoughts at rates far above average. Recommendations by study researchers include the government giving more financial support to individuals and localities in order to reduce mental stress and racial disparities in health care.

In Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, published last fall just before the Covid-19 outbreak, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton write that paradoxically enough, it is the for-profit US healthcare system itself which is the leading cause of these deaths by suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse. The costs of our privatized, for-profit healthcare system are "like a tribute that Americans have to pay to a foreign power," similar to the unconscionable reparations Germans were made to pay after World War I. 

The obscene amount of money that impoverished Germans had to pay to the victors was proportionately far less than Americans have to pay for medical care today, the authors write.  Even if our system were delivering results, which it is not, the cost would still debilitate the economy. Although avuncular billionaire Warren Buffett compared our health care system to a tapeworm, Case and Deaton aptly describe  it "as more like a cancer that has metastisized throughout the economy."

Couple that with suicide-inducing evictions and egregious rent hikes, and you've got yourself a state that has gone far beyond failed.

Just as our health insurance premiums and deductibles and "surprise" medical bills sent out by private equity-owned hospitals are tributes imposed by the oligarchy on those whom they've effectively colonized, so too are rents.

Political economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital and Ideology also compares the victims of contemporary predatory capitalism to the colonized subjects of an imperialistic foreign power: 
"In other words, the rest of the world labored to increase the consumption and standard of living of the colonial powers, even as it became increasingly indebted to those powers. The situation is like that of the worker who must devote a large portion of his salary to pay rent to his landlord, which the landlord then uses to buy the rest of the building while leading a life of luxury compared to the family of the workers, which has only hhis wages to live on. This comparison may shock some readers (which I think would be healthy) but one must realize that the purpose of property is to increase the owner's ability to consume and accumulate in the future."
Lacking even a wage with which to pay the tribute of rent, or a basic guaranteed income or health care in the middle of a pandemic, people are realizing that their choice is not limited to Trump and Biden, or choosing between protesters and cops.  The choice is between succumbing to despair and taking to the streets. Or starting a third political party. Or joining a revolution that's overdue by about 250 years.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

GOP Confab: Tony Soprano Complains About "The Mob"

The  oligarchic bickering within the suffocating confines of our two-party system has reached full throttle this week with the Republican side's version of reality.

  Who even needs a party platform, when the GOP train already left the station quite a while ago? But if you act now, perhaps you too can catch up and score a one-way ticket to hell on the Donald Trump special.

But first, you have to dodge all the "socialist mobs" that are fleeing the crime-ridden cities to attack white people in the pristine suburbs. And stay patriotically paranoid at all times, because Joe and Kamala are popping up at every curve, blocking the tracks with their hammers and sickles and threatening to derail the freedom train with all that Marxism. (If only!)

To help set the mood and the desired tone, the notorious St. Louis couple arrested for aiming their guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this summer showed up in the first class dining car to warn passengers that Joe Biden's party wants to "abolish the suburbs" and allow low-income apartments to replace big single family homes. (again - if only!) 

"Make no mistake," recited Patricia McCloskey. "No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America!"

"If you don't stand up for yourself, the Mob will try to destroy you!" subtly chimed in her aggrieved multimillionaire husband Mark.

You really do have to hand it to the Trump Crime Family, who have the chutzpah to cast themselves and their supporters and sycophants as the victims of mob (read: Black. progressive) oppression. The real oligarchic mob bosses, the real usurpers of democracy, will say whatever it takes to transform themselves into the Usurped. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said about the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, Donald Trump's whole shtick is similarly all about "co-opting populism in the service of elitism."

So. semi-adept conductors that they are. the Trumpies have  thoughtfully staffed their virtual Dog-Whistlestop campaign train with dozens of token Black Pullman porters - even one renegade Black congressman, Democrat Tim Scott - as supposed proof that Donald Trump is not the hardcore racist that those damned Wall Street socialist elitists are always making him out to be. If you hop aboard his train, he'll punch your ticket so many times that you'll barely feel him punching you right in the face.

Despite trying to beat the Dems at their own shallow diversity/identity politics game, however, Trump still hasn't quite mastered the art of pandering and co-opting the pain of others with the finesse necessary to pull it off. He simply cannot resist making himself the centerpiece of every hard luck story. Each of the designated sufferers who appeared on opening night to tell their sad stories were also required to proclaim themselves saved by Trump and by Trump alone.  One cancer patient as much as suggested that Trump had single-handedly cured her disease by fast-tracking an experimental drug.

 This is a huge step up from Biden trying to beat the Republicans at their own cruel right-wing game by throwing cold water all over a dying Medicare For All advocate with a feeble "I get it, man" as he vowed to veto any future single payer healthcare legislation. 

Trump doesn't merely play a quack doctor on TV. As another regular person convention speaker testified, Trump has nobly abandoned his previous carefree billionaire lifestyle in order to sacrifice himself for the country.(doing, I suppose, the unaccustomed hard work of personally looting the public treasury on his own behalf rather than relying on lawyers and bribed politicians.)

 This buffoonery was designed to be in such stark contrast to last week's very serious Democratic convention, where Joe Biden marketed the notion that his personal warmth and "decency" and shared national grief over the death of his son should erase any desire or need that voters might have for health care and other frivolous things

So it's a real quandary. Do we cast our lot with the death by a thousand cuts/ benign neglect, liberal interventionist imperialism, and syrupy platitudes of the Democrats, or do we join the screaming brutal descent into fascist hell with Donald Trump?

Neither of the above, you say? Well, it turns out that there might be a third choice after all, an option which, for some strange reason, the corporate media are not bothering to tell you about. 

There's going to be a separate People's Party Convention, to be held online this coming weekend, And everybody is invited.

Now, before you scream the word "spoiler" at me, please rest assured that this convention is not (yet) an actual third party with a place on the ballot. For now, it's all in the planning stages to explore how we can finally wean ourselves away from the toxic teat of the corporate duopoly. 

Call it a pipe dream if you like, but even failing at this goal is certainly better than never having tried at all.

Friday, August 21, 2020

DNC Finale: As Snug As a Bug On a Smug Repug Mug

The Democratic confab is finally dead and buried, save for the bounty of stale takeaways and sugary leftovers and touchy-feelies still being peddled by the party's corporate media propagandists.

But here are a just a few of the inappropriate observations which should be noted but which were not included in the New York Times's wrap-ups of the dreary takeaways.

I want to know if those were real tears in Obama's eyes, designed to augment the long-perfected catch in the voice for the projection of performative sincerity. Or, whether the shiny moisture was really a drop of glycerin expertly applied just before filming by a Hollywood special effects person. Color me suspicious.The desired message seemed to be that if the legendarily stoic former president - so annoyingly hyped as No Drama Obama throughout his tenure -  is feeling this rattled and upset about Trump and the post office, then the rest of us should be having a complete nervous breakdown. If we're not crying and gnashing our teeth, then we are not patriotic.  But don't demand guaranteed mental health care for all, though. Get out there and vote, ya lousy bunch of cynics!

 How about the symbolism of that bug landing on billionaire Michael Bloomberg's smug mug - not once,but twice - during his own stentorian speech? It first alit below his stone-dry right eye before perching just above his curled sneer-hole. Like most of the dog-whistled reassurances to Wall Street and war profiteers sprinkled throughout the jingoistic Democratic festivities, this has a double meaning. It first proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the poor people-hating  - but environmentally conscious - Stop and and Frisk mayor really is a two-faced phony. But here's the really scary part. The fact that the bug finally flew away on its own. without the stoic Bloomberg even having to flick it away with that perennially wagging finger of his, proved beyond all doubt  that he is also the Lord of the Flies. This feat of Bloombergian strength was probably enough to bring real envious tears to the eyes of fellow finger-wagger Obama, who needed vast fleets of unmanned predator drones to achieve his own bug-splat.

Everybody who's anybody is weeping real crocodile tears of admiration for 13-year-old Brayden Harrington, who attested that fellow stutterer Joe Biden inspired him enough to talk publicly about his disability. Young Brayden, you might remember, was originally selected by the vice president's staff on the pre-Covid campaign trail to ask a question for an utterly spontaneous campaign photo-op.

The New York Time's Wajit Ali's gushing was typical of the reactions: "Brayden stood up last night, and he gave us the best reason to vote for Biden. Trump has no response to this, because it would require him to have empathy and kindness."

The co-optation of Brayden Harrington serves two purposes. First, the emphasis on Biden's own history of speech impairment deflects from the glaring evidence that his often disjointed remarks are also symptomatic of early-stage dementia. Secondly, it provides another point of contrast to Trump, who is either too stupid or too self-sabotaging to co-opt the trials and tribulations of individuals in order to enhance his own political fortunes.

So, my own main wrapped up takeaway from the four nights (two of which I deliberately missed, because mental health) is that Joe Biden is being sold as a warm, fuzzy security blanket covering an entire planet that is currently writhing in pain on a bed of Trumpian nails. We'll finally feel so safe huddling beneath his platitudes, his gaffes, his gropes, his empathy, his decency, his bereavements, his humanity, that we won't even realize that Blankie Biden is smothering us with all that warmth. If you lost a loved one prematurely or have untreated medical issues yourself because of lack of health insurance, you'll forget all about Uncle Joe's adamant opposition to Medicare For All. Because he'll always give you a pat on the head or get your phone number in an elevator while you suffocate to death under all that folksy, toxic warmth.  At least you'll find comfort in the fact that, as you turn blue in the face, you'll have Voted Blue, No Matter Who.

The New York Times approvingly headlines Biden's vow that "I will draw on the best of us" as though it wasn't a threat to continue extracting the toil, sweat and blood of the poor on behalf of the rich.

If that prospect isn't macabre enough for you, then you can always bask in the horror of Donald Trump inappropriately transforming the East Room of the White House into a funeral parlor for his deceased younger brother Robert. I wonder if the eulogy will include fond memories  of Donald teasing and torturing his sibling throughout their childhood and anecdotes of his habit of stealing and hiding young Bobby's prized toy cars in the attic, and how Old Man Trump used to punish and berate the younger boy for losing his stuff all the time.

Without Robert to kick around, Trump never would have gotten the head start in bullying and grifting he needed in order to get where he is today. 

Maybe he can continue his eulogy into next week's GOP convention, and milk his brother's death at least half as much as Joe Biden grotesquely milks the loss of his son Beau at every opportunity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Quadrennial Follies: Pandemic Edition

I've been offline for a second entire week this month, due to a combination of a tropical storm, neglected infrastructure and the typically shoddy customer service from the Spectrum monopoly.  So I apologize for the radio silence and for my inability to moderate and publish the handful of reader comments that were lost in the ether for the past seven days.

Not that I was totally disconnected from the world of manufactured opinion, consent and news, mind you. I still was able to get NPR (National Public Radio), so I learned on the morning after the big event that Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

After listening to NPR for days on end, I remember why I'd stopped tuning into it a decade ago.

With its combination of Trump disgust and associated Russophobia brought to the level of barely contained hopeless and helpless hysteria, sponsored by more craft beer microbreweries, sustainable gourmet food emporiums, artisanal coffee roasters, Ivy League tutoring services and more pretentious New-Agey stuff than I ever knew existed in upstate New York and adjacent New England, it was, in fact, a virtual teaser for this week's Democratic National Convention. With very few exceptions - notably,an excellent "Fresh Air" interview with human rights activist Sister Helen Prejean - I found NPR to be just as off-putting in its own smarmy way as any drivel belched out by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk.

During one call-in segment on the locally-produced "Round Table" breakfast show, a woman describing herself as the manager of an upstate New York trailer park described her tenants as "lovely people" who, despite their hard-knock lives, are still true believers in Donald Trump. Why oh why do "these people" always vote against their own interests? And why oh why do they resent the well-meaning and earnest and fact-based NPR crowd so much?

"Racism" was the unanimous verdict of the panelists, who proceeded to lambaste Trump's stereotypical misogynistic characterization of Kamala Harris as "nasty." One panelist had a thesaurus magically to hand and proceeded to properly enunciate all the synonyms for "nasty." Another panelist decried the media's disrespectfully sexist habit of referring to the candidate only by her first name. This is so unfair, she said, because they call him Biden rather than just plain Joe, and they always call him Trump instead of Don. There were also the requisite quotes from Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

God help me, but I found myself commiserating with the elite-hating trailer park folk as my own bile rose in response to the limousine liberalism of the NPR experts.

The emphasis on identity politics serves, of course, to shield Harris from such legitimate critiques as her prosecution of the poor parents of truant children and her use of prisoners as unpaid or barely paid firefighters. her prosecution of low level drug offenders and her refusal to prosecute Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin or his California bank for foreclosure fraud.

Mass liberal hatred of Trump fills the vacuum of the Democratic Party's having no agenda of its own to make people's lives better. "Remote" describes both its convention broadcast method and its relationship to the non-wealthy.

Desperate Housewives actress Eva Langoria glamorously and seamlessly took over last night where NPR left off, acting as the hostess of the Democratic Party's quadrennial national convention. I very naively thought that absent incessant chants of "USA! USA! USA" brayed out by delegates decked out in their garish hats after every sentence by every politician with a speaking role, the event would be more palatable.

How wrong I was. This convention is not a celebration. It offers no hope. It should actually be called Quadranimus, because it is nothing but four years of elite #Resistance and moneyed hate and fake despair and rancid concern-trolling all rolled up into four days.

I should have taken a drink every time that Bernie Sanders uttered the word "unprecedented" and Michelle Obama used the word "folks," and when each of them mentioned "shtruggle." If I had, I would be having one heck of a hangover right about now.

While the Democratic Party has been moving inexorably to the right over the last four or five decades, the 2020 convention was the first time they've totally come out of the closet. Former Republican governor and presidential candidate John Kasich, awkwardly playing the role of Dorothy, was filmed literally standing at a fork in a road. Some brainless talking scarecrow had apparently whispered in his ear and instructed him to take the route all the way to Oz and to Joe  A trio of Republican women (former New Jersey Gov.Christy Todd Whitman and CEO Meg Whitman and Staten Island GOP machine politician Susan Molinaro) were granted more speaking time than progressive dynamo Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Those GOP mavens admittedly were hard acts to follow, but Bernie Sanders did his very best, lauding Joe Biden's gracious gesture of lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 as another magical fork in the road to the Emerald City of true guaranteed single payer health care. This tortured detour is certainly better than Trump defunding the Post Office so that your Amazon package arrives in two weeks rather than within the promised two days. Isn't it? Isn't it? 

The situation is so dire that Nancy Pelosi is going one step beyond praying for the low-status victims of the Covid-19 crisis currently being co-opted by the Dems for their Quadranimus show, and is actually calling her members back to Washington to block Trump's wholesale destruction of the US Postal Service for his own crass political purposes. In order for Pelosi and the Democrats to return to power, voters must not only be shamed and terrified into picking Biden, but they must also have the option of using the mail to do so. This is especially true for those vulnerable uninsured voters who are being told by Bernie Sanders that they must survive until the age of 60 to get a slim chance of access to guaranteed government-run coverage before they die of their untreated diseases. Because it seems that even the much-ballyhooed public option promised by good old honest, decent, empathetic Joe Biden has already been quietly tossed down the memory hole.  

Barack Obama, meanwhile, emerged from his taciturn turn at his sprawling Martha's Vineyard estate to offer some "unusually sharp criticism" of Trump's attempted destruction of the Post Office and its resulting vote suppression.

“What we’ve seen, in a way that is unique to modern political history, is a president who is explicit in trying to discourage people from voting,Obama said on Cadence13’s Campaign HQ podcast in a discussion with his former campaign manager David Plouffe. “What we’ve never seen before is a president say, ‘I’m going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to [discourage] voting and I will be explicit about the reason I’m doing it.’”
“That’s sort of unheard of, right?” he added. “And we also have not had an election in the midst of a pandemic that is still deadly and killing a lot of people, and we still don’t know the long-term side effects of contracting the illness.”
But back in 2009, his first year in the White House, Obama was singing a very different tune. In true Republican fashion, he defended his own abandoned promise of a health insurance public option by likening it to the "inefficiency" of the US Postal Service. He made the preposterous claim that in order for a thing to be efficient, it must be privatized, competitive and profit-seeking. Since the taxpayer does not fund United Health or Blue Cross, Obama suggested, then why should the public fund the postal service?

 "I mean, if you think about it," he said, "UPS and FedEx are doin' just fine.  It's the post office that's always havin' problems."  (Yeah, he was at one of those folksy, g-droppin' town halls).

Obama failed to mention that the Post Office wasn't doin' so good in large part because Congress had bipartisanly passed a bill requiring the USPS to fund its pension and health plans 75 years into the future - in other words, to pay for the benefits of future postal workers who haven't even been born. 

The destruction wasn't started by Donald Trump. He has simply revved it up to Mach speed and boasted about it more, while fully exposing the anti-labor machinations operating in both parties for the last 40 or 50 years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Elite Response to Catastrophe: Beat, Prey, Shove

With piles of furniture on curb-sides becoming a common sight all over the country as evictions ramp up because tens of millions of people have no jobs and no money to pay the rent, former First Lady Michelle Obama went on Instagram over the weekend to show her empathy with the exploding American underclass.

She posted a picture of herself lounging barefoot on an overstuffed sofa she'd transported all the way up to the rooftop terrace of her Washington, DC mansion. It was a way not only of demonstrating solidarity with all those losing the very roofs over their own heads, but of reassuring her millions of concerned fans not to worry about her and the self-diagnosed "low level depression" brought on by the pandemic lockdown. She is doing just fine compared to the "folks" out there working for "the rest of us."

Her self-righteous motto "When they go low, we go high," has been duly augmented by "When I feel low, I go high. And so can you!"

So, proles, stop feeling so down and out just because you're down, and literally out on the street. You, too, can live the elite al fresco lifestyle and perhaps even take up Michelle Obama's therapeutic bullet-journaling hobby on your very own outdoor sofa as you wait for the movers to take your earthly possessions to the auction block or the junkyard.

 If you're especially feeling low, and a rooftop terrace or Martha's Vineyard escape is not available at the moment, then you could opt to do what record numbers of your fellow Down and Outs awaiting their "deaths of despair" started doing long before Covid-19 ever hit the scene. You can go high on drugs and alcohol.

Of course, the Down and Out population is not really the intended audience to whom Michelle Obama has so magnanimously written:

There’s no reason to worry about me. Like I said in that conversation with @Michele__Norris, I’m thinking about the folks out there risking themselves for the rest of us—the doctors and nurses and essential workers of all kinds, I’m thinking about the teachers and students and parents who are just trying to figure out school for the fall. I’m thinking about the people out there protesting and organizing for a little more justice in our country."
If her idea of "a little more justice in our country" does not explicitly include a rent freeze, an eviction/foreclosure moratorium and legislation for the construction of tens of millions of new affordable housing units, it is likely because Michelle's husband had deliberately chosen not to include such relief on his own agenda during his eight years as president. The Obama administration's conscious choice to allow banks to throw millions of people out of their homes after the 2008 financial meltdown actually helped set the stage for the current catastrophe. "Folks" have never recovered from the first eviction/foreclosure crisis of more than a decade ago. Fully 94 percent of all the wealth "lost" as a result of Wall Street's greed-fueled housing bubble and subsequent bursting geysered up to the richest one percent of Americans - Michelle Obama's class, or what she seems to mean by "the rest of us."

As Binyamin Applebaum writes in a New York Times editorial:

The government dismissed the woes of homeowners and renters as personal tragedies that did not require the attention of the Treasury Department. The government was wrong. The millions of individual tragedies required action. A nation is a collection of people; the first job of government is to keep people from harm.
 Even on its own terms, the government’s indifference was a mistake. The massive dislocations shredded communities, as families were replaced by abandoned homes. Schools struggled to help displaced children, whose test scores declined and behavioral problems increased. Businesses lost their customers. Cities starved for property tax revenue slashed spending: Colorado Springs turned off one-third of its street lights.
 The accumulation of individual tragedies left lasting scars on the economy and on society.
Applebaum is being unnecessarily kind when he calls the manufactured cruelty of the Obama years - itself a manufactured prelude to the Trump years  - a "mistake." Crime against humanity, or at least depraved indifference to human life, would be a more apt description.

There is plenty of tone-deafness afflicting the elite circles basking at the level of Michelle Obama's rooftop terrace, of course. 

Donald Trump's own executive order halting evictions is no such thing. The language merely promises to "consider" some sort of eviction relief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's idea of "a little justice" in the deliberate
 absence of any congressional relief for regular people was to do Michelle Obama's Instagram post one better, and post a prayer for "responsive justice." The gist of the sanctimonious plea to her Democratic caucus is to pray "even harder" for the GOP sadists than they pray for their unseen and forgotten constituents.

If prayers by Democratic politicians do not miraculously provide food, clothing and shelter for millions of hungry and evicted Americans, then their oligarchic task-masters have offered to vaguely think about helping the exploding Down and Out population themselves, sometime within the next 10 years or so.  

"A new non-profit, the New York Jobs CEO Council, will work with universities, the city and other groups to create new curriculums (sic) and apprenticeships over the next decade," announces the New York Times.

The pledge to prepare 100,000 Down and Outs for the jobs of the future was signed by more than two dozen of the wealthiest tax-averse corporations and oligarchs:
Details are scant, but the initiative has attracted the support of many of the most powerful chief executives in the country, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Sundar Pichai of Google.
 “We started with the C.E.O.s for a very specific reason,” said Gail O. Mellow, who will run the new council and most recently served as president of LaGuardia Community College. “We wanted that buy in.”
Of course, some of the same Wall Street and corporate predators who evicted millions of people after the first financial crisis and bought up the foreclosed properties with a vengeance, only to begin evicting millions of people anew during the pandemic, now again try to present themselves as their victims' saviors.

There is seemingly no limit to how low they'll go for their endless high profits.

As we brace ourselves for next week's Democratic Convention, and speeches by the Obamas and Clintons and Nancy Pelosi, the Times assures us that while the hearts (sic) of Wall Streeters aren't necessarily with Joe Biden, their wallets most assuredly are.

It helps, the article states,  that he's been historically viewed as a "distressed asset" which can be bought low.

They also think that marginalized, jobless, evicted, perennially exploited people can be bought low and brought even lower. 

Is there no pain that these prayerful predators will not try to commodify and consume?

One consolation, as more and more commodified humans protest on the streets (for a whole lot more than "a little justice") is that the ruling elites are displaying their arrogance and ignorance and cluelessness in ever more entertaining and inspiring ways with every passing day. 

Their very existence is a clarion call to action for us to get off our curbside sofas. Our furniture and worldly possessions might disappear, but we cannot and we must not. We must refuse to be part of their planned development, their commodified human refuse dump. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Happy Birthday, Saint Barack of Hiroshima

Since Tropical Storm Isaias knocked me off the grid for the past three days, I'd missed the national corporate media's fawning frenzy over Barack Obama's 59th birthday as well as its much more subdued coverage of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States.

Therefore, submitted for your approval (just like the old Twilight Zone DVDs I've been watching all week to ease my Internet withdrawal symptoms) is a piece I wrote called "Saint Barack of Hiroshima." (Original air date May 28, 2016):

Not only is Barack Obama one of the most ironic Nobel Peace laureates in history, he also takes the prize for being the most cynically arrogant. Nobody with even a fraction of his obvious intelligence, nobody with even the mere rotting vestige of a moral compass, would have dared to set foot in Hiroshima otherwise.

Grotesquely parading down a hideously symbolic red carpet, Obama proceeded to plant himself comfortably behind yet another global bully pulpit, announcing once again, in case we forgot, that the United States will continue to reign as the concern-trolling bully and moral arbiter of the planet.
How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.  Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.  Nations arise, telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats, but those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.
Obama himself has conveniently used religion as his own license to kill. Four years ago, concerned about his own reelection prospects and deeming himself in dire need of some bellicose propaganda to counter the GOP's silly accusations of deficient virility, he planted a story in the New York Times about his Terror Tuesday Kill List.  The tortured narrative of the article sought to portray him as a thoughtful Archangel of Death, a Saint Michael in heaven with a halo, as opposed to stupid Lucifer with a Bushy face burning in the hellish flames of merely mortal ignorance.

Not being a particularly religious man himself, Obama relied on the Roman Catholic faith of his national security mentor and future CIA director to justify his assassination program, which to date has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.
Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.
 How easily Saint Barack learned to justify his violence to the name of some higher cause. Transcending the mindless fundamentalism of the bloodthirsty despots of wars past, our intellectual president uses the New York Times as his own enhanced propaganda Bible, even getting the scribes to elevate his chamber of death to a Platonic man cave of advanced ideas.  After all, were it not for the pragmatic Greek philosophers, there never would have been any Christian intellectuals to justify the whole gamut of depravity, from misogyny, to imperialism and plunder, to inquisitorial torture and death, to pedophilia.

Since many of the thousands of Obama's drone victims have been residents of "tribal" areas, how much easier for him to justify their deaths. They are stateless people, belonging to no nation. Since they have no protection from any formal government, they are thus dehumanized, rendered into nameless "bug-splat" by American Predator and Reaper drones. 

But Obama apparently succeeded PR-wise in Hiroshima, adding his own glib chapter to what he only pretends to decry: "Nations arise, telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats, but those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different."

While he has been rightly castigated by scientists and independent critics for presuming to lecture the world on nuclear weapons after appropriating an obscene trillion dollars to upgrade America's own arsenal, his speech itself got relatively glowing reviews from the liberal press, anxious to defend him against silly GOP accusations that he went to Hiroshima to apologize for America's dropping the atomic bombs. That is so patently unfair.  Obama not only didn't apologize, he deliberately thumbed his nose at Nagasaki, an even more depraved war crime given that the war was over by the time Truman committed his two-fer.

Obama even bent over backward to avoid directly mentioning that the United States actually dropped the bombs. His opening salvo in the alleged U.S. rapprochement with Japanese survivors was, in fact, stunningly maudlin and insulting to the victims:

Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.  A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.  
Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?  We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past.  We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner.  Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.
To hear Obama tell it, death just sort of fell down from the sky like an act of an Old Testament God, in burning little radioactive isotopes instead of raindrops. No input needed from Harry Truman or even from the unrepentant pilot of the Enola Gay, who named his bomb "Little Boy." See, Obama just could not bring himself to admit that the United States destroyed Hiroshima. Rather, a Biblical wall of fire and a flash of light did the trick, in order to demonstrate that "mankind" still possesses the means to go all retro Adam and Eve, and destroy itself.

 The victims of the war crimes should ask for nothing more than for Saint Barack to examine the consciences of both the warmongers and the innocent bystanders. Then he will order up some absolution and even co-opt Bernie Sanders in calling for a "moral" (not an anti-capitalist) revolution. Why else is his name Barack, which literally means Blessed?  All of us must have some skin in this depraved game, utter our acts of contrition even as the Church of Capitalism itself is exempt. He wants the world congregation to believe that all wars are started by popular referendum rather than by plutocratic priests lounging in a corner sacristy, guarded by men with guns and shielded by their billions of dollars in excess, tax-free profits.

And lest we forget, Obama's Hiroshima bucket list of a visit was a mere sidelight to the real purpose of his Asia trip: a sales junket to cement support for the corporate coup known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's been called NAFTA on steroids. Maybe we should also call it the A-Bomb of all treaties, given that it blows up democracy in favor of a global oligarchy. 

But the New York Times cloyingly and dutifully described the prime photo-op ("Hiroshima Survivor Cries, and Obama Gives Him a Hug") And then it was on to the stoic panoramic spectacle of the official kiss and makeup session between just two elite guys:

 Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park had all the pomp, ceremony and planned choreography of a state visit or a leader’s funeral. With thousands in attendance and much of Japan watching on TV, Mr. Obama walked forward alone at the park and laid a wreath on a white pyramid. He paused before the memorial’s cenotaph, his head bowed.
 A moment later, Mr. Abe approached with his own wreath, which he laid beside Mr. Obama’s on another pyramid. After a moment’s reflection, the two leaders shook hands — a clear signal of the extraordinary alliance their two nations had forged out of the ashes of war.
It's a pyramid scheme, all right. Substitute "wealth" for "wreath" for what goes on the tippy-top, and you can almost envision a veritable TPP Balletmaybe staged as a hawkish update of the FirebirdOut of the smoldering ashes of war comes the renewed conflagration of capitalism on crack.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Malthusian States of America

With 20 million Americans' incomes plummeting by as much as two-thirds literally overnight with the expiration of federal unemployment benefits, and 40 million of us facing eviction in the coming months because we lack the money to pay the rent, and with a pandemic raging all around us, comparisons to such catastrophes as the Great Depression simply fail to suffice.

This is especially true because our government, ostensibly formed to protect the citizens, is now openly run by a cabal of corporate predators using "democratically" elected politicians as their front-men and front-women. We are, in effect, not so much a nation or a republic as we are a colony.

A more apt historical comparison to the present crisis might be 19th century Ireland, where mass famine was the de facto pandemic of the era.

Ireland, a British colony, suffered from extreme inequality. Most property was owned by absentee landlords. When the famine arrived in 1845, nearly a million people died and some eight million more were forced to emigrate. British elites simply delighted in the situation, much as Wall Street investors are delighting in Malthusian population control, via Covid-19. The soaring stock market indicates the euphoria of the elites every single day. The more people who die in service to the rich, the more their homes become vacant, the more that the profits of the wealthy few can soar into the stratosphere. Jeff Bezos notoriously glommed up an extra $13 billion in just one 24-hour period and promises to become America's first trillionaire once the dystopian dust finally settles - with or without survivors, with or without a superfluous exploited labor force.

What other conclusion can we reach than to acknowledge that our ruling elites are deliberately making a horrendous situation even worse? What is different in 21st century America from what the British lords intended for Ireland nearly 200 years ago?

As economist Thomas Piketty writes in "Capital and Ideology," those elites demonstrated the "quasi-explicit Malthusian goal of reducing the number of the poor and the number of rebels to boot."

That the elimination of the poor through Social Darwinism is the explicit goal of the "bad cop," or Republican, side of the ruling duopoly is a given. Donald Trump's  goal of eliminating protesters by sending Homeland Security forces to Portland to roust them has initially failed, largely because he went about it in his usual oafish incompetent manner. The "good cops" of the oligarchic duopoly have therefore been temporarily forced to withhold their usual rubber stamp approval of funding for Homeland Security, to try and keep up the pretense that we do not live in a police state. At the same time, they are adamantly supporting continued militarization of local police forces.

If the Democrats had any actual political will or interest in serving the mass of constituents who are not members of the donor class of task masters, their national political platform would contain a guaranteed national income, guaranteed housing and guaranteed single payer health care.

None of these things was on Franklin Roosevelt's vaguely worded "Forgotten Man" 1932 platform, either. He and the political class of the Great Depression had to be scared into passing initial New Deal legislation by socialist rabble- rousers and unions and rent strikers.

Even with this modicum of relief, as Frances Fox Piven notes, the protests continued. 

"They were crucial in pressuring reluctant state and local officials to implement the federally initiated aid programs... By the mid-1930s, mass strikes were a threat to economic recovery and to the Democratic voting majorities that had put FDR in office. A pro-union labor policy was far from Roosevelt's mind when he took office in 1933. But by 1935, strikes escalating and the election of 1936 approaching, he was ready to sign the National Labor Relations Act."

This bowing to popular demand followed a pattern. A similar thing had happened in famine-stressed Ireland, where rural tenants refused to pay rent, occupied the property they'd been ordered to vacate, and fought back against police and the landlords' private militias. The Gladstone government, duly frightened, finally passed the first Irish Land Act in 1870.

It turned out that when push came to shove, the sacred right of private property was not quite as sacrosanct as the owning class liked to pretend. The rationale, Piketty writes, was then and still is now, that if the elites give the poor too much relief and and too many rights, society itself might collapse. But eventually, the British elites relented -much as FDR's party relented in the 1930s - not so much because they'd suddenly developed any empathy for the poor, but because they were scared for their own hides.

Only when they realized that the poor simply weren't buying into their elite propaganda of imminent societal collapse from too much fairness (for the simple fact that the poor had nothing left to lose) did the Lords change their tune in a big fat hurry. They knew that unless they agreed to some reappropriation of wealth, a true bottom-up revolution threatened to become a reality. Their world would be the one to collapse.

In the case of Ireland, tenants were allocated their own land, and landlords were compensated by the government, temporarily placating the masses of people. In the case of the United States, cash relief and a jobs guarantee and retirement security were enacted. In the case of both, elites have been chipping away at these reforms ever since.

Democratic challenger Joe Biden's vow to "Build Back Better" is, without any real economic relief, nothing but a vague promise to build upon a foundation of neoliberal quicksand. Because he is no Barack Obama, who was so charmingly adept at fooling most liberals most of the time with his glib doublespeak of hope and change and "winning the future" by "sharing the sacrifice" with billionaires, it's an absolute given that the street protests will continue unabated all across America, even with a Democratic restoration.

Because Trump defeat or no Trump defeat, we will still be living in a failed state come Inauguration Day, 2021. The social contract will still have been broken into a thousand little pieces. As legal scholar Rosa Brooks has written of failing states, America still will have  lost "control over the means of violence," unable to create peace and stability for its citizens, unwilling to ensure economic growth through a more equitable redistribution of social goods, and still ruled by the "violent competition for resources."

Biden's selection of a Black woman as his vice president will not achieve the oligarchic goal of quelling dissent through identity politics. One top contender,Kamala Harris, is a former prosecutor who jailed the poor mothers of truant children and exploited prison labor, even under a court order to stop doing it. Another, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, is an architect of the Libyan regime change war, resulting in a modern-day slavery system in that particular fail-by-design state. The least-bad choice, Karen Bass, once advocated Medicare For All before orchestrating the congressional Kinte Cloth stunt in lieu of giving health care to everybody. She also just "walked back" her kind words about Fidel Castro in hopes of increasing her veep chances.

But the pendulum is swinging back in our direction. Perhaps we can convince - as in, scare shitless - a Biden administration into commandeering vast parcels of vacant oligarchic real estate and transforming it into affordable housing. The owners and landlords and donors comprising his base would, of course,  be fully and fairly compensated, just as they once were in Ireland, Uncle Joe's beloved ancestral home.

We've got to take advantage of the pendulum-swinging while the pendulum-swinging's still good. It happens so rarely in the favor of the have-not majority.