Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Surreal Times In the Good Old USA

Can't order find common cause with chaos? Can't sanity and insanity just please finally get along?

It's long past time to get realistic and pragmatic and centrist, people. Joe Biden's Build Back Better legislation is as good as dead in the polluted water.  So let's give three cheers for the new and improved Whittle Down Worse Wisely agenda, which is certainly a lot smarter than the reckless Shave Away to a Sad Pile of Sawdust that those nasty old Republicans are rooting for. 

American politics can be visualized as a Salvador Dali painting. As Albert Camus observed, the essence of surrealism is that it is both irrational and triumphant. "The surrealists, while simultaneously exalting human innocence, believed they could exalt murder and suicide," he wrote in The Rebel.

 The New York Times is only too happy to aid and abet the Democrats at their own hard passive-aggressive work of whittling down wisely in order to placate their murderous mutual overlords. The main tactic is to frame the narrative into an honest debate between two equal factions: the very sincere, poor people-hating deficit hawks, and the equally sincere, innocent, and very smug climate catastrophe acknowledgers.  You see,  the issue is not one of life and death. The only issue is how "we" can sustain economic growth. Everybody can irrationally agree, after all, that there can be a bright side to cancer.

Or as tax and economics reporter Jim Tankersley more decorously concern-trolls it:

It is a stealth battle over the fiscal future at a time when few lawmakers in either party have prioritized addressing debt and deficits. Each side believes its approach would put the nation’s finances on a more sustainable path by generating the strongest, most durable economic growth possible.

Get it? There are only two designated "sides" in this surreal intra-oligarchic debate. Tankersley actually recasts the Wall Street-spawned Third Way think tank as the environmentally conscious liberal good guy in the contrived narrative, while arch-conservative economist Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute gets to be magically transformed into a "centrist."

Strain is such a reasonable, moderate guy that his solution to poverty is to give unemployed people a bus ticket out of town so they can find a job at sub-minimum wage to help them get back on their feet without any of those horrible government handouts.

Third Way, founded by the late billionaire Pete Peterson for the sole purpose of unraveling the New Deal via deficit hysteria, desperately wants the separate infrastructure bill to pass, given that it contains so many corporate subsidies for the repair (and privatization!) of our crumbling roads and bridges. Therefore, the Times turns to Josh Freed, Third Way's vice president in charge of climate and energy, for the requisite scientific expertise. Freed says the reason to reverse climate catastrophe is not so much to save lives now as it is to avoid wasting money on the victims of future disasters, which would put a real damper on the profits of the ruling class.

Or, as Freed more decorously concern-trolls it for easy digestion by Times readers:

“Those are the table stakes for the reconciliation and infrastructure debate. It’s why we think the cost of inaction, from an economic perspective, is so enormous.”

Translation: investors have to extract and spend public money - not their own hoarded wealth, mind you - in order to make enormous private profits later. And it's all for the good of the planet. This is otherwise known as green-washing everything in sight to slap an Earth-friendly gloss over corporate greed and rapacity.

Freed, an alumnus of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also serves on the board of the Clean Energy Leadership Council. which according to his Third Way profile, is "an organization dedicated to equipping a diverse set of emerging leaders with the skills and expertise to lead the transition to a clean energy economy."

Have you ever noticed that these philanthrocapitalist do-good fronts are never about solving problems in the here and now, but all about capitalism tooting its own horn and gauzily imparting its skills and inspiration to the youthful leaders of Tomorrow?

And sure enough, the Clean Energy Leadership Council gets the bulk of its funding from energy companies and their various representatives and lobbyists. The notorious Con Ed of New York is listed as a "foundational partner," along with the public-private New York State Energy Research and Development Association. One "kilowatt supporter" is listed as Van Ness Feldman LLP,, a law firm which boasts on its own website that it is one of the nation's top three lobbyists for the oil and gas industry. It also boasts of its "diversity and inclusion," proving once again that the Greenwashing/Wokewashing Partnership is a ubiquitous plank in corporate propaganda across multiple industries.  Pollution and greed are proud equal opportunity employers.

Another kilowatt supporter is an outfit called Adaptive Change Advisors, which modestly claims on its website that it has taught everybody from White House personnel to Google, to Microsoft, to the United Nations to the World Bank how to win friends and influence people. Based upon a Harvard University-developed system, it is essentially about elites instructing elites on how to be more elite. If there is any adapting to be done, those targets shall remain nameless. But you know who you are! I am taking a wild guess that Advanced Whittling For Dummies is part of its core curriculum. Also too, there are probably instructions on how to write a concern-trolling New York Times article which frames narratives and phony debates around rich-people interests, while hammering home the point that There Is No Alternative. So, Lessers, adapt to murder-suicide already!

Did I mention that Jim Tankersley, author of the aforementioned misleading New York Times think piece, is also a "media fellow" at Stanford University's neoliberal Institute For Economic and Policy Research? This particular think tank was founded by the late George Shultz, who held four different Cabinet positions in Republican administrations and who later headed the Board of Directors of Theranos, whose own founder, Elizabeth Holmes, is currently on trial for defrauding investors. His other claims to fame were leading the global energy company Bechtel and devising George W. Bush's policy of preemptive war.

Why else would there be no mention of the US Military being the biggest single polluter by fossil fuels on the face of the planet? Why else do you never read about the "affordability" of war in the New York Times, or in any of the five or six media conglomerates and allied tech titans that own both the discourse and the means of delivering the discourse?

There used to be a great journalistic organization called Muckety, which actually drew convoluted spider-webby diagrams explaining how virtually all the members the ruling class are interconnected.  One day, the site simply disappeared off the Internet without a trace and with no explanation.

Convoluted diagrams that resemble hairy spiders are so headache-inducing anyway. So I'll let the late great George Carlin whittle it all right down for ya:

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Grotesque Meanness of Exceptional USA

Now that they've passed the all important milestone of announcing that yes, Virginia, there will indeed be deep cuts in their own social welfare legislation to satisfy their needy corporate owners, the Democrats are regaling us with much hand-wringing over just how miserable they can make us without coming off like the mean jerks that many of them are.

The current narrative has them babbling over whether 'tis better for their re-election chances to give some of the people the least possible amount of bare-bones relief most of the time, or whether 'tis better to give all of the people slightly more bare bones relief for the shortest time possible.  

To means-test new social programs or not to means-test them? That is the manufactured question.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Democrats' current chief of the Bad Cop police, is all for means-testing stuff like universal subsidized pre-school, lest the One Exceptional Nation turn into an "entitlement society" for everyone who is not already filthy rich by virtue (or vice) of being the entitled scion of a coal mining dynasty who in turn sired a pharmaceutical baroness who nearly sextupled the price of life-saving EpiPens that prevent susceptible people from succumbing to anaphylactic shock if they're exposed to something as innocuous as a peanut  or a strawberry.

To counter that pathological Manchean meanness, House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is mulling a scheme which would give most people - even high earners - subsidized child care and direct cash aid, and dental care when they get old. To placate Manchin and other professional greedsters, though, these and other "sweeping" universal relief programs would only last for a couple of years, or at least until after the 2022 midterms. Because even if (when) the Republicans take back Congress, the Democratic calculus goes, it will be hard for even permanent de facto President Mitch McConnell to yank these goodies away from constituents. The programs will be so popular, even with diehard Trump loyalists. that the pitchforks will be out for the GOP rather than for the designated Marxist Commies of the corporate DNC. Or at least that's the hope.

Both parties have traditionally been loath to just give people money with no strings attached, money which doesn't go through a middleman like a corporate employer airily promising to create new jobs in return for tax-free sweetheart deals involving public land in "opportunity zones", or the property developer who pockets millions of dollars in public money to build luxury housing for the rich while setting aside a few "affordable" units and inviting thousands of poor people to compete for a slim chance to win a lease on one of them.

The halcyon days of stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, eviction moratoria, and cost-free medical care for Covid are long over. All that direct cash aid lifted people out of poverty, big-time. All that guaranteed housing security and freedom from wage slavery at precarious jobs lifted a weight off people they barely knew they'd been suffocating under until it was gone.  

This peace of mind and happiness on such a grand scale simply will not do. The State of Exception that was the Covid pandemic has been declared officially over, despite the fact that it is far from over. If it isn't quite over, the elites of the ruling class scold, it's all the fault of the willfully unvaccinated spreading their germs and their Trumpian ideologies to the righteous liberals who had so responsibly gotten their own jabs many months ago. No matter that a good percentage of people who have not been vaccinated are uninsured and live in poor or rural areas and have not enjoyed he privilege of "accessing" any kind of health care at all for themselves for entire decades, and who therefore don't trust the medical-industrial complex all that much. No matter that many, if not most, of the unvaccinated do not have paid time off to deal with the side effects of the shots. Why else would low-paid workers wait until the last possible minute to finally get vaccinated - that is, when they were threatened with the loss of those jobs?

Capitalism's response to Covid is not only a shameful public health scandal in the richest country on the planet, it has devolved into a closed political and culture war feedback loop of Maskers vs Anti-Maskers, Vaxxed vs Unvaxxed - with the central battlefield becoming the already-embattled and newly reopened public school system.

If America did not already have a public school system, you can rest assured that Congress would be fighting over means-testing all the potential pupils. But since America already does have a public school system, they've had to settle for dismantling and/or defunding it. 

Public education is largely though not exclusively funded through property taxation, ensuring that rich neighborhoods have the best schools. Meanwhile, private equity vultures and other investors place bets on "charter schools" in poorer neighborhoods and treat kids like regimented cattle futures. The word "public" has become increasingly selective and exclusionary.

Meanness is baked right in to the DNA of the ruling elites. But to deflect our attention from this universal truth, these same ruling elites are in a veritable sanctimonious frenzy of pitting people against one another. It's a Hobbesian war of all against all on crack and steroids. So it's no surprise that a Korean series called Squid Game is the most popular thing on Netflix right now. You can never get enough bare survival drama, especially if you're at least flush with enough spare cash to be able to afford to watch other people compete to simply live other day from within the comfort of your own home.

And not for nothing is the economic war on the poor and working class being waged in tandem with the war on women newly surged by the grotesque cabal of black-robed Puritan fundamentalists on the Supreme Court. The Texas abortion ban is nothing if not an anti-Enlightenment evolutionary throwback.

So what better time than Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly known as Columbus Day) and the season of Halloween than to acknowledge that the eternal Witch Hunt has always been an integral weapon in the class war of the rich against the rest of us?

As Marxist critic and feminist Silvia Federici observes, 

What has remained unacknowledged is that, like the slave trade and the extermination of the indigenous populations in the New World, the witch hunt stands at a crossroad of a cluster of social processes that paved the way for the rise of the modern capitalist world...

The African slaves, the expropriated peasants of Africa and Latin America, and the massacred native population of North America become the kin of the sixteenth and seventeenth century European witches who, like them, saw their common lands taken away, experienced the hunger produced by the move to cash crops, and saw their resistance persecuted as a sign of a diabolical pact.

To extrapolate from Federici's thesis, then, what's the difference between "the woman burned at the stake for raising her pitchfork against the tax collector," and the women of Texas now being denied their reproductive rights by the paid moralizers of the oligarchy?

These right wing functionaries and pathocrats could not care less about the "right to life". What they do care about is controlling the bodies, minds and spirits of the dispossessed. Whether it's by forcing a woman to carry an unwanted and largely unaffordable pregnancy to term, and then refusing government help to the family while forcing women back to low-paid jobs right in the middle of a pandemic, it's all the same old story of oppression. 

Even the "good" rulers of the Democratic Party punish the poor of all genders by forcing them to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops and to abjectly grovel for every last morsel of grudging relief. The poor must be controlled, punished and surveilled, whether it be from a place of liberal kindness or conservative callousness. If programs like government-subsidized child care were guaranteed for both the rich and the poor, there could be no shame, no punishment and no continued surveillance. And there would, perhaps, not be as much resentment among people and silo-ing of political interest groups trucking in outrage. Solidarity might actually stand a chance!

As the New York Times has just reported, the United States spends only $500 per year per toddler for nursery care, compared to an average of $14,000 in other advanced countries. America is indeed the One Exceptional Nation. If the ruling elites bearing their meager time-limited gifts can't make us sweat and ruthlessly compete against one another as we kiss their rings, then what possible good is their largesse?

To take just one recent example of their stingily charitable mindset, the federal government's multibillion dollar Emergency Rental Assistance Program was designed not so much as a tenant relief program as it was a landlord bailout program. In most states, all back rent awarded goes not to the tenant but directly to the landlord, who is not even legally required to accept the funds. In New York state alone, two thirds of the funds provisionally approved after lengthy delays are not yet disbursed, simply because landlords are not cooperating. They apparently relish the physical power they have over tenants, by way of evictions and extreme rent increases, more than they value getting their past-due rent money into their bank accounts.

As Bryce Covert writes in The New Republic:

Having children is the single greatest predictor of whether someone will face eviction. It can be difficult to make rent and support a family, especially for women of color, who on average are paid less than white women, and single mothers living on one paycheck. Landlords—eager for an excuse to rid themselves of tenants whose children might cause noise complaints or property damage, or for whom lead hazards have to be abated or child services called—are often all too happy to begin eviction proceedings.

When you consider that the vast majority of tenants who are behind in their rent, both in New York and nationally, are single women with children, the simultaneous imposition of draconian anti-abortion laws makes the essential witch-hunt aspect of neoliberal capitalism all that more grotesque.

Gargoyles of the Oligarchy: High Relief For Me, But Not For Thee

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Eternal Triangle of the Duopolistic Mind

 It would have been unseemly, even for the feckless Democrats, for their strongest-ever Progressive caucus in the history of Progress to cave immediately to the designated useful idiots of the Oligarchy. Their Pyrrhic victory against the so-called Centrists is just the latest diversionary skirmish in the proxy class war game currently being played out in Congress.  

The latest episode had a whopping nine rascally centrist corporatists demanding a vote on their corporation-friendly trillion-dollar infrastructure bill before taking up the larger bill which gives a modicum of relief to just plain Folks. Everybody expected the caucus of more than a hundred progressives to cave to the right wingers, like they always do. But lo and behold - they stood strong, even against the all-powerful Nancy Pelosi who, the official narrative has it, suffered the unheard-of embarrassment of having to cancel the infrastructure vote for lack of support.

Then there was the sight of Joe Manchin being heckled on his houseboat by a crew of kayakers and Kyrsten Sinema being chased into an Arizona bathroom stall by immigrant activists, and you could almost taste the progressive victory. If you didn't feel even the tiniest bit of smug schadenfreude viewing all this zany political theater, then you're even more cynical than I am.

But then Bernie Sanders went on Sunday TV to inject a tiny dose of pragmatic reality into the euphoric bubble. Only hours after railing that the $3.5 trillion (Build Back Better) social welfare package was already a compromise of its original $6 trillion form, Bernie did what the Democratic Party leadership always does best. He proceeded to compromise with himself. 

"Three and a half trillion should be a minimum, but I accept that there's gonna have to be a give and take," Sanders told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

President "Joe is a good friend of mine" Biden, it turns out, had already decreed that although Joe Manchin's figure of $1.5 trillion was way too low, Biden can live with a package as low as $1.9 trillion. Once the haggling is all done, maybe they can pass it with a $1.65 trillion price tag, to be reluctantly oozed out over such a long period of time that it will end up costing the rich absolutely nothing in the way of taxes as people starve and the world burns all around them and their fireproof saferooms and mega-yachts.

The New York Times hilariously characterized Biden's posturing as "siding with the progressives" who had boldly "flexed their muscles".

You Go, Progressives!

What's the rush, anyway? The longer that the soap opera can be drawn out, the more revenue will be forthcoming from the corporate sponsors, and the more the scaffolding under Rosie the Riveter can be sabotaged by everybody from Bernie to the corporatists of the Problem Solvers' Caucus.

 As long, for example, as there's even the faintest threat that older people will have their dental care paid for by the government beginning maybe five years from now, the lobbyists of the American Dental Association will pour millions in pocket change into the campaign coffers of cheaply bought-off senators and congress-critters. The more that corporate-owned pundits can pit old people with crumbling teeth against young kids having to learn in crumbling schools, the better it will be for the rich. Anything to take the minds of the restive public off the rich. But just in case, we will be carefully taught to hate only the bad rich and the foreign rich, such as in the recent blockbuster news about Putin and his offshore tax haven mistress and the king of Jordan and his stealthy purchase of almost an entire California neighborhood.

Biden and his good-cop henchman Bernie are simply doing their version of the old Clintonian triangulation tango. But instead of playing Republicans and Democrats off each other to punish the poor and reward the rich, they're pitting  intraparty "centrists" and "progressives" against each other. This is the current de facto duopoly. Negotiating with the GOP is a tough sell, given that it's now acceptable to call them fascists and enablers of an attempted coup.  So, unless the Dems can "compromise" among themselves, Trump will win again. Keeping the Trump-hate alive as they screw you over under heavy anesthesia and demand what little spare change you still have in your pocket is also an integral part of the plan.

Given that Halloween is becoming even more popular than Christmas, when Congress traditionally rams though its budgets and secret corporate giveaways, Crypt-keeper Nancy Pelosi has appropriately rescheduled the infrastructure vote for October 31st. I predict a booming market for Kyrsten Sinema fright wigs and public service announcements from the American Dental Association, warning little kids that selfish old people, not candy, will make the teeth rot right out of their heads.