Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Biden's Latest Plan To Save the U.S. Hegemon

 The Biden administration's call for 16 years of non-means tested, guaranteed, fully funded public education for every American citizen certainly is laudable on its face.

It's the White House's rationale for extending schooling by four years - two for Pre-K and two for community college - that should be propelling our B.S. detectors into high alert.  Biden's proposed extension, along  with his plan for paid family medical leave and child care subsidies which would cap out-of-pocket costs for day care at seven percent of family income, is to ensure that parents can continue to work outside of the home. The "family" plan contains no subsidies that would actually help families spend more leisure time together instead of working till they drop. And it does not make the child tax credit increases permanent; it only extends them to 2025.

In an off-the-record press call with the media to preview Biden's speech before Congress tonight, administration officials were, in fact, selling the $1.9 trillion American Families Plan as a weapon in the US hegemon's arsenal for "competitiveness" with the rest of the civilized world. There was nary a word about enhancing American minds and bodies and spirits. It's all about both directly and indirectly subsidizing corporations and employers while preparing the work force of the future, literally from birth. 

 Senior Administration Official I couched it in typical neoliberal-speak:

The American Families Plan invests in our children and our families, helping families cover the expenses that so many struggle with now: lowering health insurance premiums; cutting child poverty; and producing a larger, more productive, and healthier workforce in the years ahead....

  It will make transformational investments from early childhood to higher education so that all children, young — so that all children and young people are able to learn and grown (sic) and gain the skills they need.... 

Skill Me Now

 The plan will also invest in our teachers, improving teacher training and support so that our schools become engines of growth at every level.  It will address teacher shortages, which have only gotten more critical in the context of the pandemic.  It’ll improve teacher preparation and strengthen pipelines for teachers of color. 

Translation of the above Senior Administration Official Neospeak:

-Children are cattle futures who need skills in order to guarantee oligarchic growth and profit for their future bosses and CEOs who "earn" at least 300 times the salary of the average worker. Children are not cast as curious sentient beings who need to be taught to think critically or to become immersed in art, literature, philosophy. These liberal arts are reserved for the children of the rich. -check.

  -Profits will still prevail over people, although some lucky people might have the chance to access more affordable care on the insurance marketplace by at least temporarily paying through only one nostril rather than through the entire nose. For right now, the Biden plan to get us through the pandemic is to continue to generously cut an average of $50 a month from predatory insurance premiums which often cost thousands. - check.

-Child poverty will pragmatically be cut (maybe) but never entirely eliminated in the richest country in the history of the planet. - check.  

-With just enough poverty being cut, some lucky children will magnanimously be allowed to  grow up into strong mature flesh in the low-income workforce of the future. How can the rich continue getting richer without able-bodied servants to fulfill their every need?  If the planter class in the antebellum south could attend to the physical needs of the enslaved for shelter and health care, then so too can our own enlightened elites at least minimally attend to the needs of the hired help - check.

-Schools, transformed in the last, lost decades into engines of capitalism, will continue to be treated as businesses geared more toward the growth of the plutonomy than toward the growth of human minds. And teachers and pupils alike will continue to be tested to ensure that the interests of capital are being properly advanced- check.

And now let's take a look at who and what are being left out of Joe Biden's investments in America's future.

For such a woke administration that so prides itself on its diversity and "inclusiveness," it's quite telling that the middle-aged and elderly of all races and genders are almost entirely excluded from Biden's definition of the American Family. There will be no expansion of Medicare, or a lowering of the eligibility age. There will be no increase in monthly Social Security benefits. There will no negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of drugs, which in the US are the highest in the world. There will be no deals to reimport cheaper drugs from Canada and other countries which do negotiate lower prices with manufacturers, and which do have single payer health insurance systems.

On the contrary: the Biden plan would continue to engorge the for-profit health insurance industry by giving billions in direct cash payments to United Healthcare, Blue Cross and other corporations under the "Affordable" Care Act. The White House will ensure that our health care system remains the most expensive in the world  while having some of the poorest results in terms of mortality and morbidity. That is really what "competitiveness" is all about.

Even right in the middle of a pandemic.

Meanwhile, there are the usual aspirational echoes of such Obama administration plans as taxing capital gains at a comparable rate to labor, closing the carried interest loophole and reforming the dynasty-friendly inheritance tax code. The $15 minimum wage would be strictly limited to daycare workers, to supplement Biden's recent executive order raising it to $15 for employees of federal contractors.

One reporter in the off-the-record press gaggle did press Senior Administration Official I (or was it II or III?) for more specifics, such as just when those extra four years of schooling might actually come to pass.

Well, when all the Senior Administration Officials got together to iron out the specifics, it turned out that there are so many wrinkles in so much gauze and gossamer that nobody really knows the answer, even if Congress does perform a miracle and actually pass the American Family Plan.

But since there is so much yardage (not to mention gaping holes) in the material, Senior Official One allowed that  "broadly speaking, this is a 10-year program — the American Families Plan.  That’s the window.  And you know, many of these things will become permanent.  They — they phase in at different times in different ways."

So, some are immediate.  Some, like paid leave, have a ramp-up.  Some have, you know, like pre-K — you know, a different share that is paid overtime on a sliding basis by states starting at a, you know, low end, the amount that states pay, and as time goes on, an expectation that they will pay more.

Are we all clear now? No wonder the reporter didn't follow up and inquire whether Senior Administration Official, given Biden's call for Republican input on the American Family Plan, was referring to the dreaded Overton Window. Spread the negotiations out, delay implementation for a decade, give the lobbyists all the time they need to re-rip the closed loopholes on taxation, and ultimately bow to the whims of the august Senate Parliamentarian (a/k/a the Pope-Queen of the United States), and Biden himself is buying all the time he needs to ensure that America's slide off the low end proceeds apace.

Read between the lines. Take the hype and the hope in his first ballyhooed speech to Congress with a grain of salt in your wounds.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Manufacturing Discontent

 "Your (sic) not gonna hate your way to Medicare For All," hatefully sneered a recent anonymous commenter on one of my numerous posts on the subject.

Once I'd relegated the comment to the spam bucket to join thousands of its brethren from both the Right and the United Center, I marveled at how low the "discourse" has descended, when the expressed desire that one's fellow human beings enjoy the same guaranteed health care that every other advanced civilization on earth considers to be a basic human right can possibly be construed as "hate."

Hate for whom, exactly? 

Well, given that President Joe Biden and his corporate Democratic Party are adamantly opposed to this basic human right, and given that Biden and the corporate Democratic Party are nonetheless being almost universally praised as human rights champions despite perpetuating violent militarism, anti-immigrant xenophobia and fealty to the uber-wealthy entities that finance their campaigns, I concede that it is accurate to say that I hate them with a pure, unyielding passion. And since that, in turn, also makes me a dreaded "purist,"  then I might as well just heartily welcome the hatred of the haters of hate.

Media critic Alan MacLeod has written a very enlightening article for FAIR on the cult of "divisiveness" which is being wholly manufactured and disseminated by the scribes of the elite for the sole and ultimate benefit of the elites who pay their salaries. 

 Such broadly popular programs as the minimum wage increase, single payer health care, and reversal of capitalism-engendered climate change are often characterized by establishment media organs as "stoking divisions," "polarizing," "controversial," "risky," "contentious," "looks good on paper," "the math doesn't add up," and the like.

Any word or phrase will do, just so long as the pathological hatred that the ruling elite harbors for the masses of people is carefully disguised by gaslighting and concern-trolling. Otherwise, the estimated 70 to 80 percent of the citizenry in favor of a single payer public insurance program will never be convinced that they're completely nuts for daring to demand universal, guaranteed, government-sponsored health care. We have to be made to feel guilty about punishing people in love with their precarious, pricey employment-based coverage and condemning the insurance adjustors who work so responsibly hard to deny our claims into lives of penury and maybe even homelessness.

As if on cue, therefore, the New York Times has published a front page screed placing the blame for "divisiveness" not so much on the corporate media working overtime to manufacture the discontent, but upon the media consumers themselves, whose pre-existing feeble hate-brains are only being finessed by actors employed by corporate, consolidated media. It's a remarkable sleight of pen (or keyboard) by scribe Nate Cohn, given how cleverly and stealthily he transmutes this manufactured discontent from top-down propaganda into a powerful, dangerous, bottom-up, grassroots "sectarianism" reminiscent of religious wars both past and present.

The gist of it is that the people themselves, the great unwashed ignorant rabble, are the real threat to democracy. Elites, unite!

In Cohn's telling, you see, there is no such thing as the class war. There is no rich vs poor, or poor vs rich. It is solely about Democrats vs. Republicans. Whether you know it or not, your prime identity as a human being in America is your fealty to a political party. You are either a Trump supporter or a Biden supporter.  There will be no coloring outside of these lines, for fear that the elite media's narrative center will not hold. Cohn writes:

Whether religious or political, sectarianism is about two hostile identity groups who not only clash over policy and ideology, but see the other side as alien and immoral. It’s the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas, that drives sectarian conflict....

  And as mass sectarianism has grown in America, some of the loudest partisan voices in Congress or on Fox News, Twitter, MSNBC and other platforms have determined that it’s in their interest to lean into cultural warfare and inflammatory rhetoric to energize their side against the other.

Cohn puts the chicken before the egg in that last paragraph. It wasn't the corporate propagandists who stoked the "sectarians" with their own inflammatory rhetoric, making enormous profits for their sponsors in the process. Cohn implicitly blames the audience itself. Were it not for the pre-existing hateful rabble, those noble propagandists would never have left the safety of their desks and studios to venture forth into the vast American wasteland to soak up and report on all that grassroots hatred and angst, which has nothing whatever to do with their own outlets broadcasting hours upon hours of Donald Trump (not to mention breathlessly broadcasting hours upon hours of his empty podium with themselves as the celebrity warm-up acts) to foment more discord for more profit and sky-high ratings.

To hear Cohn and his cohort tell it, I have nothing better to do than to castigate my neighbors over their support of, or opposition to, the "cancelling" of Dr. Seuss.  Americans are divided into only two camps: the Trump lovers and the Biden lovers. And they hate each other's guts. That they have been encouraged to scapegoat one another through such top-down neoliberal job-destroying policies as NAFTA and the corporate destruction of organized labor and the deregulation of finance is, strangely enough, never even mentioned in Cohn's "political memo."

He breathlessly continues:

One-third of Americans believe that violence could be justified to achieve political objectives. In a survey conducted in January, a majority of Republican voters agreed with the statement that the “traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 suggests that the risks of sustained political violence or even insurgency can’t be discounted.

Left unmentioned is the US ruling elites' own sustained agenda of state-sanctioned violence, from this country's estimated one thousand military bases throughout the world, its status as the world's biggest arms dealer, its legalization of assault weapons for private ownership, and its primo status as Incarceration Nation, housing more Black prisoners today than there were enslaved people immediately prior to the Civil War. 

There has always been class sectarianism you can believe in, here in these United States, and it was spawned and constantly nurtured by capitalism and the unfettered wealth of the greedy few.   

Of course, since the media is still so enveloped in its Biden honeymoon swoon, Cohn also has no choice but to delve shallowly into his self-censoring hive-brain and to cast Joe Biden as the anti-sectarian hero who wants nothing more than to bring Democrats and Republicans together for the kind of incestuous orgy that has always worked out so well for the elites who bankroll the much more desirable state-sanctioned brand of social, economic and physical violence.

After spending whole paragraphs bemoaning how a nation full of sectarian folks like you and me are turning on one other, Cohn abruptly and without warning completely contradicts himself:

The median voter prefers bipartisanship and a de-escalation of political conflict, creating an incentive to run nonsectarian campaigns.

I feel so divided right now after reading that journalistic feat of bipolar disorder that I don't know whether to flee North in a contentious search for Santa Claus, or to completely blow my quickly dwindling $1400 stimulus check on a controversial trip to the South Pole to commune with the Antarctic penguins while there's still an ice shelf and no Green New Deal in sight.

 There are, after all, only ever two Manichean choices in this life. Corporate media tells me so.  And so did unindicted war criminal George W. Bush, who upon the illegal invasion of Iraq so famously and originally proclaimed to the whole world: "You are either with us or against us."

Fast forward to a Sunday morning CBS gabfest, and this same George Bush now bemoans that people are so "polarized" that they can't even imagine him being friends with Michelle Obama, who once called him "a very funny man" and almost single-handedly paved the way for his reputation rehab in liberal circles.

Though she didn't specify whether he is funny ha-ha or funny-scary, Bush explained in that endearingly narcissistic folksy fashion of his that "anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like."

Duopoly, Inc. You're Either For It Or Against It

Monday, April 12, 2021

Putting a Humanitarian Spin On Xenophobia

In order to prevent thousands of Central American migrants from making those dangerous journeys from dangerous countries, whose danger to human lives stems in large part from dangerous CIA/Pentagon death squads enabling military right-wing coups and propping up corrupt puppets, the Biden administration is now installing more native police and military guards than there are refugees at various border crossings.

It's a way to "discourage" refugees from ever leaving their climate-ravaged, violence-torn homes in the first place. And let's be honest. It takes the heat off Joe Biden, who is getting lambasted left and right for the abysmal conditions of imprisoned migrants, with the added insult of getting his carefully cultivated neo-progressive persona tarnished. 

Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced on Monday that the White House has made deals with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras (where a 2009 military coup with the passive-aggressive compliance, if not direct assistance, of the Obama administration, ousted the socialist democratically-elected president) to repel or arrest - if not something even worse - would-be refugees.

Or, as the New York Times spins it, this draconian measure is only being implemented for the good of the refugees, to protect them from "making a dangerous trip North." The Biden administration will beneficently arrange for these desperate people to be turned back, jailed or even tortured or shot at places far, far away from the prying eyes of the American people - who already are getting an eye-full of the shameful conditions in pediatric "detention shelters" on our side of the border.

It's a variation on the solution devised by the kinder gentler administration which had so ostentatiously banned Bush-era torture. The Democrats simply outsourced their own torture to friendly authoritarian countries, and euphemized the outsourcing as "extraordinary rendition." 

And then there were those therapeutic "surgical" drone strikes that made future Abu Ghraib photographic scandals far less likely, mainly because remote-controlled Predators left so few intact bodies around to provide any embarrassing evidence. 

From Monday's Times:

Mexico has informed the United States that it will maintain 10,000 troops at its own southern border, aiming to double the number of migrants that it stops from traveling north, Ms. Psaki said. Guatemala has added 1,500 troops to its border with Honduras and has set up a series of a dozen checkpoints along the route that many migrants take as they head to the United States.

She also said that Honduras recently “surged” 7,000 police and troops to disperse a contingent of migrants that had gathered to make the trip north seeking refuge.

“The objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey, and make crossing the border more difficult,” Ms. Psaki said.

This is the exact same policy continued less than successfully by Donald Trump. However, the announcement that Biden is renewing it is somehow not eliciting anywhere near the same levels of outrage from the corporate press and Democratic lawmakers who decried the cruelty of outsourcing xenophobic US policy to repressive, corrupt regimes and police agencies only a few short years ago. The difference, of course, is that Trump made no effort to spin the cruelty into sanctimony and made no effort to play nice with Mexico. The Democratic side of the duopoly for its own part has always striven mightily to put the humanitarian gloss on the bipartisan, international human rights abuses that this country is so famous for. Trump was more interested in bellowing about "shithole countries" to rile up his base. Democrats talk up a kind, caring  game to placate their liberal base.

For example, Vice President Kamaa Harris is promoted by the Times as  leading a valiant effort to "improve the conditions" in the corrupt, devastated areas from which the refugees are fleeing. At the same time, these refugees are also being denigrated and dehumanized by the Biden administration and friendly establishment press as a militant "surge" that is threatening to breach our suddenly-precious border wall. The bellicose rhetoric is so ingrained in all aspects of foreign policy that there seems to be nothing that they can't or won't append their war jingo to.

The Times article uncritically puts a final spin on what is, essentially, a threat and a warning to an eminently disposable population:

The agreements with the countries are an early test of the cooperation that Ms. Harris will need in order to succeed in that mission.

“These discussions are ongoing, over a period of time and take place at several levels of the government, both here and within these countries, Ms. Psaki said.

Translation: if these violent and historically corrupt regimes don't do what the US imperium orders in order to quell the "surge" of their own people - cast almost as enemy combatants in need of some tough love, rather than as people fleeing for their very lives from violence and famine -  then Uncle Sam won't be forking over any more dollars to prop up their violent and corrupt regimes.

And if people do have to suffer and die, Psaki smarmily dog-whistles, there will be so many players and so many places involved in the abuses that the naming of any individual culprits will be impossible, not to mention unnecessary and undesirable.

This outsourcing of weaponized US immigration policy, moreover, will also make it costly and inconvenient for a US media conglomerate owned by only five or six corporations to bother setting up bureaus in southern Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala in order to cover the plights of thwarted refugees. Covering the occasional Rio Grande drowning and kids sleeping under Mylar blankets behind bars is cheap, it's easy, and it's close enough to home to keep the domestic culture wars alive, and the ratings higher. 

Why else is this whole shameful tale being constantly reported as a "border crisis" rather than the Global South climate disaster and capitalism-spawned human catastrophe that it really is?

(Hint: Follow the money. Remember who sponsors cable news. Here's looking at you, Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Financialized Capital.)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Biden Just Can't Hide His Neoliberalism

 I know it's considered a faux pas in polite media and Democratic circles to criticize Joe Biden, but a close reading of his latest speech, touting his proposed infrastructure bill, does reveal more than a few troubling "tells."

The first, as outlined by modern monetary theorist Stephanie Kelton in a New York Times op-ed, is Biden's obsession with "pay-fors" and his continued harping on debts and deficits. His nearly $2 trillion in "infrastructure" spending would likely be spread out over an unnecessarily long period of time, and it's not nearly enough to cure what ails us. It focuses not so much on specific needs and specific solutions, but on costs. If the money, as it is wont to do, winds up in the usual hands of privateers and consultants, it will not circulate through the economy. A lot of it will be hoarded. 

"It’s honest, it’s fair, it’s fiscally responsible and it pays for what we need and reduces the debt over the long haul," Biden bragged this week, in a distinct echo of the centrist rhetoric of the Pete Peterson Foundation and other austerian think tanks bankrolled  by the oligarchy. True, these ruling class narrative-builders now largely agree that deficits don't matter quite so much as they once did, given the emergency of the pandemic and social unrest and the resulting imminent threat to capitalism itself. But once the immediate crisis is over, and the aid money likely privatized to the fullest extent possible, then debts and deficits will begin to matter again, and with a vengeance.

 Rather than just borrow money at zero or subzero interest rates, rather than minting a trillion-dollar coin or two or ten as allowed by the Constitution, Biden would instead tax incomes above $400,000, raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent (far too modest) and, in a nod to economist Thomas Piketty, impose a global wealth tax to discourage the use of offshore tax shelters. He does not mention anything about his own home state of Delaware being a tax shelter in its own right, thanks in large part to his own bank-friendly congressional legislation. Lobbyists are no doubt devising loopholes even as we speak. 

Biden's plans admittedly do sound downright progressive. But with Bad Cop Senator Joe Manchin formally announcing his opposition to ending the filibuster, and Pope-Queen Elizabeth MacDonough ( a/k/a the Senate parliamentarian) bringing up the rear to nix passage of reconciliation bills requiring only a 51-vote majority, Biden can propose anything he wants and rest assured that most of his proposals benefiting the ordinary people he claims to champion will remain just that - proposals.

So for all the populist rhetoric stuffed in his infrastructure speech the other day, there remained a number of disturbing neoliberal buzzwords and talking points besides "deficit" and "pay-for" that should make our hackles rise.


But it also is a blueprint for infrastructure needed for tomorrow, not just yesterday, tomorrow. For American jobs, for American competitiveness.

That's the lead paragraph, signaling right off the bat that Biden is more concerned with US hegemony and cutthroat competition than he is with the well-being of "folks." The race to win the Superpower battle against China is the underlying theme of his entire speech. Our high-speed rail has to be better than their high-speed rail. It just has to be. In order to regain the respect of the rest of the world, we have to restore our place as Number One. Otherwise,  the rest of the world will not do our bidding and bend the knee, like in the good old days.

Next, he enthuses about the transcontinental railroad and interstate highway system. The former, completed largely by the near-slave labor of Chinese immigrants and the use of Chinese-invented dynamite, had the core goal of attracting - oftentimes duping - white settlers to the heartland to help exterminate the Indians and enrich the robber barons. The latter was a Cold War project to make it easier to evacuate after a nuclear war with Russia and to sell more cars and polluting gas.  Biden signals that cutthroat neoliberalism is by no means dead with these words:

We need to start seeing infrastructure through its effect on the lives of working people in America. What is the foundation today that they need to carve out their place in the middle class to make it.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Arm yourselves instead with your knives and prepare to fight the next battle in the Hobbesian war of All Against All. Solidarity, my ass.

Now, to his credit, Biden does get in a subtle dig at the man he rather dismissively calls "Barack" and his infamous phony sip of Flint water which so cruelly substituted for a presidential public health disaster declaration and a massive federal aid package, including free health care, for the people of Flint:

Ask a teacher or a childcare worker if having clean drinking water, non contaminated drinking water in our schools, in our childcare centers, is part of that foundation. When we know that the lead in our pipes slows a child’s development when they drink that water.

Then again, nor does Biden himself declare a public health emergency in Flint, where lead not only will remain in the bodies of children for their entire lives, but whose own future children will likely be born damaged as a result of the contamination that was deliberately allowed to happen by a whole slew of elected officials. This points to the deliberate lack of specificity in the infrastructure proposal. Come on, man!

Then there was this heartbreaking nugget:

Ask our wounded warriors and military families. To my Republican colleagues in congress, should we modernize VA hospitals, update them?

Not one word about defunding the for-profit and increasingly outsourced and privatized United States military or ending the wars that produce all the wounded warriors. And of course, not one word about the lack of health care for people in foreign lands who are the targets and collateral damage of American imperialism.

Like his former boss, meanwhile, Biden is all fired up and ready to go:

 Over 500,000 charging stations on the highways we are going to build to accommodate electric vehicles, so we can own the future. Construction workers and engineers building modern hospitals and homes for American families. Healthcare workers, steel workers, folks who were I work in the cutting edge labs.

Notwithstanding that garbled last sentence, this is an eerie flashback to Obama's own Win the Future campaign slogan. Notice that neoliberal rhetoric is never about the here and now, it is always about making life better in the ephemeral someday for regular people. "Owning the future" does not put food on the table today, despite the Democrats' temporary increase in food stamp benefits, which now pay for maybe two weeks' worth of groceries instead of the previous one week.

The speech now descends into a series of garbled sentences that nonetheless impart some unintentional truth. The underground spring of neoliberalism and rank militarism hidden just beneath Biden's heap of rich neo-populist soil begins to bubble with a xenophobic vengeance right up to the surface:

It’s not part of my speech, but I promise you, you’re all going to be reporting over the next six to eight months how China and the rest of the world is racing ahead of us in the investments they have in the future. Attempting to own the future. The technology, quantum computing, investing significant amounts of money in dealing with cancer and Alzheimer’s. That’s the infrastructure of a nation.

Biden's definition of infrastructure repair is all about one group of predatory capitalists competing against another group of predatory capitalists. China might win instead of Elon Musk and Bill Gates! And meanwhile, please stop with the hate crimes against Asians, which have nothing at all to do with our leaders' own disgustingly bellicose rhetoric.

It gets worse:

So America can lead the world that is as it’s historically done. That’s why I brought back scientists into the White House.

Not to make people's lives better, although it could be a fringe benefit. The purpose of science is to treat disease at a profit and to improve technology and transportation so that American capitalism can win.

Almost fifteen minutes into his speech, Biden really begins to go off the high-speed rails, at an almost reckless rate of belligerence.

We need to think. Look, do we think the rest of the world is waiting around? We’re not going to make those kinds of investments the rest of world’s saying. Take a look. Do you think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure or in research and development? I promise you they are not waiting. But they’re counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited, and too divided to keep pace.

Before you know it, China may even start imitating Russia and placing cheesy Facebook ads in order to sow division among Americans. Biden thinks that the average desperate American family also wants nothing more than the opportunity to traverse the whole width of America at a high rate of belligerent speed. It's road rage change you can believe in.

Now, about how we're gonna pay for it. Biden wants to tax the rich and increase taxes on corporations -  not to punish deserving jerks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, of course, but rather to bring some feel-good parity between rapacious billionaires and the barely-making-it. This is a standard neoliberal talking point, a throwback to Obama's "Share the Sacrifice" sermons admonishing the foreclosed and evicted to find common ground with those doing the foreclosing and the evicting. Because we're all in this together!

 Not fleece them. (the corporations)  28%. If you’re a mom and dad, a cop, firefighter, police officer, et cetera you’re paying close to that in your income tax.

Biden seems to think that cops and police officers are two different jobs. Speaking of which, his much-ballyhooed executive order for mild gun control will apparently not be accompanied by an order recalling all that deadly military hardware and assault weaponry from even small-town police departments under the "community policing" initiatives he spearheaded as vice president.

The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.

Or as Stephen Colbert lampooned the neoliberal concept of futurism back when he was still funny: "A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow."

Biden's concluding microburst of bombast would put Donald Trump himself to shame:

Tell the kids, the young people that work for me, I told my kids, when I go on college campuses, they’re going to see more change in the next 10 years then we’ve seen the last 50 years. We’re going to talk about commercial aircraft flying at subsonic speeds, supersonics speeds. Be able to figuratively, if we decided to do it traverse the world in about an hour, traveled 21,000 miles an hour. So much has changed. We have got to lead it.

This may sound like your grandpa on crack. But God love him and bless the troops, at least he fired (as opposed to firing up) the young people who worked for him because they admitted to past pot use. Because if you're too mellowed out on weed, how can you ever imagine circumnavigating the globe at centrifugal force? 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Thar the Movie Mogul Blows! Thar the Landlord Breaches!

You will no doubt be impressed to learn that Yours Truly (actually, the plight of Yours Truly) is the subject of the latest "Ask Real Estate" feature in the New York Times. Before going further, it would probably be simplest and less redundant to first read the Times column, and especially the reader comments so far, and most especially the top-rated reader comment, plus a follow-up, from "Sardonickyblog."  

Cartoon Version of Me (credit Nadia Pillon, NY Times)

To synopsize: besides fighting for a then-scarce dose of the Covid vaccine, I have also recently been doing battle with the management of my apartment building. This is something of a proxy, or two-front, battle also involving what is known locally as "Hollywood East," which invaded our small bucolic complex late last month without so much as a by-your-leave, in order to make a Major Motion Picture.

Called "The Whale," the film is about a gay guy trapped in his apartment because grief over the death of his partner has caused him to eat himself up to a morbidly obese 600 pounds. For a script seemingly devoted to checking several identity politics boxes, you'd think they'd at least be woke enough to find a title that isn't quite so insulting to the differently-weighted.

Then again, the actual play upon which the script is based was written during those insensitive, dark-ages coma years that plagued the country for centuries

If you've read my Times comment, you'll appreciate the black humor of a movie about a 600-pound guy trapped in his apartment actually resulting in real-life people, like my daughter and me, becoming trapped in our apartments.

You'll also appreciate the arch hilarity of a multimillion-dollar production posting "off-limits" signs on tables laden with Doritos and other salty and sugary processed snacks at various spots around the complex during the film shoot. I never did find out whether this forbidden junk food bonanza was supposed to be catering for the crew, or whether it was props for the 600-pound lead character. (I looked out my window in vain for Brendan Fraser in a fat suit, but since his character is housebound, he was perhaps stuck in his apartment on the interior sound stage several miles south of the outdoor location scenes.)

Zoom In to See the Neon Pink Off-Limits Sign (photos by Kat Garcia)

 My letter to the New York Times, meanwhile, was edited to omit the part where I questioned my landlord's breach of tenants' rights to the "quiet enjoyment" of our digs, known as the implied warranty of habitability. As a matter of fact, the only sources Ronda Kaysen quoted were from the movie industry. There was not one landlord-tenant attorney or tenant advocacy expert in the bunch. 

Then again, this is the Sunday New York Times real estate section. It is usually replete with stuff like how hard it is to score an apartment on the Upper West Side for under two million bucks, and myriad other housing agonies of the rich and well-connected.

 So I was pretty surprised that they ran my own letter. It was probably the Hollywood angle. We are so immersed in an unhealthy celebrity culture in this country, that sometimes overwrought #Oscars So White stories actually seem to compete with the continuing mass social murder of Black and Brown people who are sickening and dying in such unconscionable disproportionate numbers during the Covid pandemic.

Anyway, the gist of the Times's advice to me was to suck it up while still being a "squeaky wheel." Since movie production companies are so flush with cash, insider experts said, I should have just shaken them down for a cut of the action. This did not happen, mainly because a few days before shooting began, before the giant crane blocked my view, before our front door was blocked by a cameraman, before blinding klieg lights flooded our living room past midnight, a very personable location manager had flat-out lied to my daughter about where they would be on the property, assuring her we would not be inconvenienced.

Besides, I don't think it was my place or my job to schmooze or cajole the movie crew, since the owner(s) of the apartment building are the ones who signed the location contract and pocketed probably thousands of dollars, without even consulting or reimbursing us, the tenants who pay the rent. When I twice asked the off-site property management company for a rent abatement, they simply ignored me. Maybe I would go away!

In fact, as the passive-aggressive mass "notification" email to tenants from 360 Property Management makes all too abundantly clear, there would be no compensation for renters. In fact, we should feel as blessed and excited as they do about "our community" being in a movie. And why wouldn't they be excited, since they double-dipped, collecting full rent from the tenants while they pocketed a hefty location fee from the producers? This is on top of a 25 percent rent increase imposed by the landlord in the last two years. Gentrification has been further exacerbated this past year by wealthy pandemic refugees from New York City either renting or buying at hugely inflated prices the already-limited housing stock in this upstate locale.  The extraction of maximum value from property certainly exceeds the rights of mere mortals. This feudalistic mindset certainly restores the term "landlord" to its original meaning!

So for me, this was the straw that broke the camel's back:

 Good afternoon everyone!   

I know that many of you have heard that there will be a film crew on site in the upcoming week.   

Please see the attached Letter from the production crew of the feature film The Whale. 

We appreciate your understanding during the dates of March 23-26th as they film.  

The most significant impact will be on the day of March 25th when they are asking that you move your vehicles from the South paved lot to any of the other visitor spaces or on the north side of the building.  The crew will have a couple of vehicles on site that are period appropriate for the time period during which the story takes place. ( I believe the 1980's ) 

For your information,  we are also sharing the film crew covid protocols.    

It's exciting that our home community will be in a feature film .... thank you for your understanding!  

<WH_Residents Letter Bella Terra.pdf>
<the whale new a24 health and safety protocols v7 012921.pdf>

So right now I'm tilting at the joint windmills of Entertainment Finance Capital and the reincarnation of Old Man Trump. This is despite Plutarch warning two centuries ago that "what thing whatsoever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster's mouth, be it beast, bird, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his paunch."

So call me crazy or call me Ishmael for all I care, but on Monday I gathered all the pertinent documents and ignored emails to management that I could find, and filed a probably very quixotic complaint with the New York state attorney general's office.  I am not a lawyer, so I don't know whether I have a case for landlord harassment, fraud, breach of contract, constructive eviction, unlawful imprisonment, all of the above, or none of the above.

But complaining sure feels a whole lot better than helplessly blubbering.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Tilting At Vaccine Windmills

 Sorry about the lack of posts lately, but I've been fighting a few battles on, so to speak, the home front.

Main battle: Like many of you, I'd been scrambling to score the Covid vaccine. In New York state, where I live, the quest for the shots has been something right out of Kafka. Our local county officials brag day after day about the scores of sites (mainly chain drugstores) which are administering the vaccine. Day after day, they enthusiastically and helpfully list all the sites. Hope springs eternal, day after day, that this could finally be your lucky day in the lottery of bare survival. I spent countless hours over the past month obsessively clicking on every single one of these sites and links - only to be informed that I'd have to install an app on my phone to even get access to an application for an appointment. But never mind, because they are currently not taking any appointments anyway. 

It's classic bait and switch, on a grander scale than I have ever experienced in my life. It's  also excessively, gaslightingly cruel. It is especially sadistic in my state, given that New York has already creepily begun issuing "vaccine passports" for the lucky few. It even got me wondering if I was doing something wrong in my failure to get access to get an appointment to get vaccinated.

But it turns out that my quixotic quest for the Elixir has been the rule rather than the exception for the majority of people, in my state and in many other areas of the country. It is the epitome and most recent glaring symptom of the Failed State in which we live.

But miracle of miracles! In neighboring Orange County, the chief executive had taken to posting scarce appointment availabilities on his own personal website in the dead of night when crashes caused by desperate people are less likely.

  My son, who happens to work in the dead of night, pounced and made appointments for both me and my daughter at a "pod" only one hour's drive away from our home.

Long story short:  Steeling myself for another nightmare straight out of Kafka, I armed myself to the teeth with more forms of I.D. than even the Department of Motor Vehicles requires, fully prepared to beg right on my creaking knees for bureaucrats to find me valid enough to pass the final exam of deservedness.

So you can only imagine how stunned we were on Friday to be ushered like VIPs into a comparative Disney theme park at a local senior center. Scores of happy workers greeted us effusively. One of them even wore a Lion King shirt! We were immediately seated at a table and answered a few nonintrusive perfunctory questions before rolling up our sleeves and getting inoculated. 

We were offered bottled water by dozens of smiling people while we were seated in an observation area for the requisite 15 minutes.  The experience not only stunned me right out of my habitual cynicism, it restored my faith in humanity itself.

For those of you who still waiting, still struggling to score your own shots,  let me tell you that the feeling of doom and dread that departs from your psyche the minute you receive that first dose of elixir is an elixir in and of itself. On the downside, getting the shot does leave you with something akin to survivor guilt, knowing that so many people are still having problems getting theirs.

I have to quit now, because my arm still hurts like a bitch when I exert it. It's a great feeling, she said shamefacedly.

One windmill down, only about a few thousand left to go.  So stay tuned while I wait for all the ebullience to subside and for my cynicism to healthily return. Meanwhile, please feel free to leave a comment on your own quests to become meritocratic winners in the Golden Arm Sweepstakes, or for that matter, anything else that's on your minds.

Happy Easter!