Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Reasons For Rich People To Feel Smug in 2023

 I haven't posted in the last couple of weeks for the simple reason that I'd deliberately ignored what passes for news. This was for both mental and physical health reasons. But as neoliberal doctrine dictates to the Lessers, there shall be no more excuses.  Western culture hasn't celebrated the whole, original 12 Days of Christmas for centuries. Everybody has to get back to the New Normal before New Year's Day. And for me, that means keeping up with the New York Times so that the more squeamish among you don't have to.

It didn't take me long to find a piece guaranteed to annoy and nauseate. Titled "Reasons for Optimism in 2023," it quickly becomes obvious that this iteration of the year-end "listicle" is exclusively addressed to the people who sincerely believe that the only reason they got so much filthily richer in 2022 is because they are so "blessed." 

But on the off-chance that a twinge of guilt might threaten to afflict the sensitive rich, DealBook's Andrew Ross Sorkin and about half a dozen of his closest assistant scribes are here to assure them that even the Lessers never had it so good. 

The main things that rich people can safely ignore in 2023 are the "tripledemic," the "brutal war with no end in sight," and the climate crisis.

Even though more than 400 people a day are still dying of Covid, they are mainly old or they have pre-existing conditions. The good news is that vaccines became available for "children as young as six months old, a relief for parents as much of the world returned to a new normal." 

The article does not inform its well-heeled readers  that Covid has exploded in China, and that a bipartisan Congress just voted to kick millions of poor people off the Medicaid rolls come spring. That is because Congress had no interest in funding any kind of pandemic relief in the next fiscal year. 

The New York Times listicle does not report these little factoids, possibly because they might make the Smugnorati feel uncomfortable in this season of comfort and joy.

Meanwhile, as if they needed another reason to feel self-satisfied about 2022, they're reminded that rich countries finally abandoned their selfishness and agreed at the COP 27 confab to study pledging financial aid to poor countries suffering from the capitalistic pollution of rich countries.  However, since the Times doesn't want its readers to feel bad, it side-steps the inconvenient truth that it's only a pledge, not an ironclad commitment. And besides, what difference does irreversible global warming make when Science™  just made a nuclear fusion clean energy breakthrough, and Joe Biden promised to cure cancer in 20 years?

And if the rich are altruistically worried that bots and artificial intelligence will replace human sweat, the article continues, they shouldn't be. Bosses and owners should reject the notion that wage labor can ever be fully replaced by technology.

"What the bots can do well is make grunt work easier. One example that went viral shortly after ChatGPT’s release: A Palm Beach doctor posted a video of himself dictating a letter to an insurance company."

The article doesn't mention that such writing programs replace the office insurance grunts who normally would not only take dictation from the boss but would have the skills necessary to write a business letter. This must be especially true in the billionaire paradise of Palm Beach, where denizens have private insurance and concierge medical care, and where nobody will ever notice the millions of people getting kicked off Medicaid because "we" cannot afford it, and because poor people must always jump through hoops in order to prove their deserving need.

And speaking of poor-shaming,  that brings us to perhaps the most shameless whopper in the whole mendacious Times article:

Real progress is being made in tackling child poverty. The number of children in America living below the poverty line has plummeted by 59 percent since 1993. As The Times’s Jason DeParle reported in September, “child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households.”

Conveniently left unmentioned, lest rich readers lose the soft rosy glow of their own smugnorance, is that since Congress failed to renew the temporary Child Tax Credit before they left town for their holiday break. childhood poverty already is heading right back up.

But, the twisted Times logic goes, since kids were lifted out of poverty for six whole months in 2022, that is all the reason that "we" need to celebrate now and in the years to come.  Six whole months of relief was actually a pre-Christmas miracle when you come to think about it, because for once, Congress did not impose much if any "means-testing" poison pills on recipients. Nearly every family in the United States received it, whether or not they worked or paid taxes. This shocking universality brought out all the usual elite concern trolls, who feared that it would discourage people from working.

"Even the theoretical possibility of enabling laziness was enough to make a permanent extension a complete non-starter," explained Bloomberg News.

But never mind all that, because the New York Times concludes its own feel-good piece with news about a giant fan in Iceland that can suck tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. "The Department of Energy and a bevy of investors are racing to bring the technology, called direct air capture, to other parts of the world," the newspaper gushed.

I bet they are. If they can do subversive regulatory capture of government agencies that were originally formed to protect the public, and if they can suck the very life out of regular people just because it's profitable and because they can, then they can certainly do air capture.  They might even find a way to capture and privatize oxygen itself, and charge people for the privilege of breathing it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Grandma Got Run Over By a Neoliberal Reindeer


Rochelle Walensky of the CDC

You probably got an inkling about your fate last January, when the nation's chief public health officer said, right out loud, that it's a good thing that the old, the sick and the immunocompromised are dying from Covid-19 in such far greater numbers than are the people who are still well enough and young enough to continue contributing to the Economy.

“The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with — and, yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.” Walensky added a plug for getting vaccinated and boosted, before underscoring her earlier comment: “We’re really encouraged by these results.”

Now, with the news that more than 90 percent of the Americans dying from Covid-19 are over the age of 65, Rochelle Walensky has actually accomplished the incredible feat of making the cynical holiday tune Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer seem like a feel-good Hallmark Christmas card. You see, even when Grandma dies in a snowdrift after a Santa hit-and-run, her surviving family members still celebrate as if nothing had ever happened. Because not even death can interfere with the mindless consumption of material goods and the watching of TV sports.

 Life without Grandma is simply getting back to normal and moving on with life, and ignoring one of the worst public health catastrophes in human history.

If Joe Biden declared the pandemic to be over, then it must be over, even with close to 600 people now dying from it every day in the United States. Thank goodness, our elite policy-makers are probably muttering to themselves, that these vulnerable disposables are mostly in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and probably out of the workforce 

This is precisely why the government is currently only recommending that people don masks in public settings like grocery stores, where all those excess old people are prone to shop when they need to eat.  Because as the cult of neoliberalism has drummed into us, masking is not so much a matter of protecting others. It's about protecting yourself. (not to mention your own future Social Security and Medicare benefits.) To mask or not to mask is not even a question. This, the public health experts say, is purely about your own comfort zone and your personal choice and freedom, and being the entrepreneur of your own life.

And for Walensky, being in the zone means doubling right down on her own serial callousness. Not content to limit her disdain to the disposable victims of this pandemic, she also recently congratulated the deceased Black victims of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments for their "sacrifice" on behalf of American medical research. Since sacrifice, by definition, is all about making an informed, personal choice, she insinuates that these men knew all the risks of being unwitting guinea pigs, and chose to participate in their own destruction anyway.

In case you were wondering why Walensky still has her job, it's because she is a staunch team player in the Neoliberal Thought Collective still running this country on behalf of the oligarchy and the military-industrial complex. Her casually racist remarks on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Tuskegee atrocities are all of a piece with the recent New York Times revelations about our nation-state's junior ROTC (pre-officer training) program.  The thousands of freshman high school students who are being unwillingly enrolled in this federally funded program are disproportionately Black, Brown and poor.  By dint of their race, ethnicity and social class, they are being purposely groomed to fight in the US Imperium's forever-wars. And when it's the their  inevitable turn to get maimed and even die, they'll get thanked for their sacrifice, too.

Meanwhile, even though Congress just miraculously forced railroad workers back on the job without sick or personal time off, and allocated billions more for the Arms Industry's Ukraine proxy war with Russia, it is said to still be struggling to do anything for regular people of any age or  color, other than to urge them to "share the sacrifice" for the greater good of Wall Street and the war industry. In other words, we must learn to live with a resurgence of eugenics, or what Andre Damon of the World Socialist Website aptly calls "social murder." 

But who (besides Walensky, Biden and the whole merry band of professional pathocrats, that is) said we should accept our doom graciously? Not only should we not go quietly into that good night, we should all join together, as Dylan Thomas advised, to "rage, rage against the dying of the light." 

And on a related note, if you ever happen, like Robert Frost, to stop by woods on a winter evening, and you happen to see Grandma lying in a snowdrift, give her a hand. And put on a mask. Despite what "medical ethicist" Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel trumpets about gracefully dying by age 75 to avoid being a burden on society, we are all of us, at every age, in this together. We have miles to go before we sleep.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Amtrak Joe To the Working Class: Drop Dead

Perhaps even more stunning than the Biden administration's announcement that it will side with the railroad barons over the workers being denied sick leave is its cavalier assumption that any blowback from congressional Democrats and their constituents will be minimal to non-existent. 

In ramming the White House-brokered contract through Congress despite it being voted down by the railroad rank-and-file, Joe Biden tries to have it both ways, posturing as the most pro-labor president in history but nonetheless putting the profits of the owners and investors above the health and well-being of union members.  His mild criticism of the greed of the owners and investors was not only unaccompanied by any demand that Congress provide paid sick days and guaranteed family time to the workers - it also came with the standard "divide and conquer" rhetoric. If the railroad workers do strike, he claimed, it will ruin Christmas for all the other hard-working families in the United States. Therefore, the railroad workers must sacrifice their own health and safety to ensure the health and safety of everybody else. Of course, his occult meaning is that the health and safety of corporate profits take precedence over all else.

He is not too subtly directing us to direct our ire at our fellow working class victims instead of right where it belongs: at the oligarchs and at craven politicians like him.

His actual mealy-mouthed words:

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

The New York Times itself gave loyal cover to Biden by dutifully framing the issue around the damage to the "economy" that a strike would do, and the dire trickle-down effects on everyday Americans, should this group of other everyday Americans persist in putting their own basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness above the needs of their capitalist overlords.

 Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress vowed on Tuesday to pass legislation averting a nationwide rail strike, saying they agreed with President Biden that a work stoppage during the holidays next month would disrupt shipping and deal a devastating blow to the nation’s economy.

The rare bipartisan promise to act came as some of the nation’s largest business groups warned of dire consequences from a rail shutdown. Mr. Biden, who had promised to be the most pro-union president in the country’s history, said the federal government must short-circuit collective bargaining in this case for the good of the country as a whole.

Much to the apparent shock of all concerned, though, worker solidarity has raised its righteous head, not only in the more than 1,000 comments posted by a surprisingly outraged Times readership, but from criticism from all across the allegedly "polarized" electorate, very much siding with the rail workers over the corrupt political duopoly, the CEOs, and magnate Warren Buffett. As a result, the Times later revised the article, adding a hastily tacked-on promise from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Late Tuesday, facing substantial frustration among progressives who demanded that the offer include paid leave, Ms. Pelosi said she would also bring up a separate proposal to add seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement. It is unclear whether Republicans in the Senate would agree to such an addition, but the plan to hold a vote illustrated the degree of discontent among pro-union liberals about the agreement Mr. Biden had struck.

Beware, however, of that cagey "separate proposal" language. As we have seen too many times before, Pelosi's shtick is to urge her caucus to first vote for the corporation-friendly legislation as the necessary prelude for any progressive add-ons. And then all it takes is for one useful idiot like Joe Manchin to break his promise to vote for the separate package. Oops.

The Democrats also persist in pushing the "greater evil" narrative of how much more cruel the slim Republican House majority would be to workers when they take office in January. Therefore, their tired old twisted logic goes, it is kinder to deny them their sick days and leisure time now, lest the GOP do something really awful, like reducing their wages on top of forcing them to be on-call around the clock.

According to Politico, even Senator Bernie Sanders has reserved his own ire for the railroad industry,, carefully refraining from criticizing his good friend Joe Biden for so cravenly doing the industry's bidding.

The most that Sanders or any other senator can do is slightly delay the enshrinement of this contract into law.

Congress and the Democrats will do nothing, even as Republicans like Marco Rubio gleefully attack them from the left for betraying the working class.

So it's up to us to shock the Democrats out of the complacency they're currently enjoying for the feat of not losing as badly to the GOP as had been forecast. Call your congress-critters, and express solidarity with the men and women whose very bodies are so shackled to their stressful jobs that the term "wage slave" is not hyperbolic when it comes to describing them.

It's long past time that the ruling class and their political servants and their media lackeys stop viewing us as mere consumers, whether it be of cheap electronics or of their own platitude-layered cruelty and cowardice.

That propaganda fabric wore thin a long time ago. Since the Emperor has no clothes, we should stop pretending that he does. I hope the railroad workers do go out on strike, and then we'll see how fast these naked overlords cave. A general strike might not be such a bad idea either.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Hot Planet, Warmed-Over Trump

The post-midterms punditry about Donald Trump falls into two basic categories:

1) Trump is finished. He has no more friends, no more Rupert Murdoch media empire. no more megadonors. Plus, his presidential announcement sounded weak and whiney.

2) Trump is still so all-powerful that he will effectively run the House of Representatives.

And even if you put your full faith and credit in Door #1, there's still a chance to both have your Trump-fear and eat it too. That is because monsters are at their most vicious when they are weak and when they are cornered. 

As I wrote in a (rejected) New York Times comment on Maureen Dowd's latest Sunday column detailing the latest act in this deliberately drawn-out psychodrama (the naming of a Very Special Prosecutor):

 It's so much easier for the media to alternately ridicule Trump as a powerless weakling in one breath and still swear that he is the satanic destroyer of democracy in the next. Maybe he wouldn't have gotten those 70 million votes in 2016 had not the for-profit cable channels and news outlets forced him down our throats 24/7.

And the media mavens are still at it. You just can't quit him, for the basic reason that continuing to talk about him absolves you from the responsibility of examining the conditions that elected him in the first place. They include, but are not limited to, the mass offshoring of jobs to low-wage countries, the endless military adventures abroad while austerity was imposed at home, and the corporate capture of both legacy parties and their media partners, thus making the US a de facto oligarchy. Those 70 million votes are at least in part a giant middle finger to the ruling class, or as they are also referred to, "The Blob." And here I was, so looking forward to an ode to her good pal Nancy Pelosi from our esteemed columnist. Let me quote comic Michelle Wolf in this regard: "You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? You act like you hate him, but I think you really love him. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.”

Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, does anyone really believe that she won't still be pulling most if not all the strings of the House minority? The first possible clue might be her scoring some luxe physical office space as befits the status of Queen Emeritus. Even though no longer second in line to the presidential throne come January, this tenacious faux-feminist will cling to her power and prestige, or what she herself euphemizes as "influence" as a supposedly humble rank-and-filer still privy to the inside-trading dope that made her so wealthy. At the very least she will be a regular star on all the Sunday talk shows, the venue where official policies and discourse are set and finessed by "guests" who never disclose the corporations and weapons dealers that are financing them. Why would they? They are elites talking to other elites. The audience, such as it is, be damned. 

In other news that might sound good on the surface, the US hegemon was so chagrined at beating both Russia and China in the Colossal Fossil contest for worst polluter in the world that it has reversed course at the UN COP27 summit, and agreed in principle to join a global fund to compensate the developing countries which have borne the brunt of US-based pollution. And here we were being told that Trump was the only reason that America had lost its alleged superior standing in the world! Of course, the agreement is purely aspirational, not to mention being a very thinly-disguised propaganda gimmick. 

The loss and damage agreement hammered out in this Red Sea resort town makes clear that payments are not to be seen as an admission of liability. The deal calls for a committee with representatives from 24 countries to work over the next year to figure out exactly what form the fund should take, which mcountries and financial institutions should contribute, and where the money should go. Many of the other details are still to be determined.

It's hard enough for the pundits champing at the bit for a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024 to gloss over Uncle Joe's own journey in fossil-hood, having now completed 80 years on earth. For despite being very unpopular, Biden did eke out one win and one near-win in the mid-terms. A fossil doing battle against a whimpering zombie with a combover is just the theatrical trick to keep the proles distracted from boring existential stuff like the climate catastrophe.  The debate will once again pit a climate believer against a climate denier, with ideology substituting for any solutions that might put a damper on predatory capitalism.

The world drowns and burns, and meanwhile all that these alleged COP27 experts can come up with is choosing a committee to study the problem. Therefore you are directed to aim all your angst at the 2024 horserace. 

 They hope we won't notice when Exxon-Mobil, Duke Energy and other Colossal Fossils are named to the UN Climate Study committee in the interest of balance and fairness. These, and not the victims of pollution themselves, are grotesquely still considered to be valuable "stakeholders" whose money-fueled emissions deserve to be heard and respected even as people choke on them.

At the end of the day and at the end of the world, they are the only ones who really matter in this de facto oligarchy we live in. Why else would Joe Biden insanely grant blanket immunity to the Saudi oil despot who ordered the grisly murder of a US journalist?  


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Midterms: The Dead Sea of Democracy

 Today's Narrative: like a born-again Moses, Joe Biden has led his people out of the desert, parting the Red Sea just long enough to stave off a full-scale disaster for as long as another month. Much depends (as of this writing) on the outcomes of four close Senate races.

 The ballyhooed Republican "Red Sea" tsunami of doom failed to materialize, and voter turnout was unusually high for a midterm election. So perhaps the Battle for Democracy and the Soul of the Nation melodrama had some life in it after all. Fear of fear itself is a pretty good incentive to vote.  So, apparently, is the danger to women's reproductive rights caused by the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe Vs Wade. Even residents of deep-red Kentucky voted in a special referendum to maintain their abortion rights.

Unfortunately, the fear factor in this campaign did not extend as far as Democrats placing the pandemic and the climate disaster front and center of their agenda. Consultants said it was better for their careers to wrap their fear-fomentation in the gauzy rhetoric of patriotism and the old standby of lesser-evilism.

Meanwhile, over in the real Egypt, the United Nations COP-27 climate conference is being sponsored by among other corporations, big polluter and water-thief Coca-Cola. It's being attended by global dignitaries flown in on their carbon-spewing private jets, who will substitute the trading of carbon offsets and other financialized gimmicks for true ironclad emission restrictions. The world's richest nations, including the United States, are also fighting like hell to avoid the payment of any direct reparations to the poor countries which bare the brunt of capitalistic pollution and global warming.

Hewing true to neoliberal dogma - that the very same capitalistic "market" forces wreaking such epic havoc are the only ones that can fix it -  American climate envoy John Kerry is pushing an alternate way to compensate poor countries - but only if they first slavishly agree to cut their own paltry emissions.

And despite the fact that control of the next Congress is still very much up in the choking air, Kerry blithely assured his fellow attendees that with the Republicans in charge, it is simply not realistic to expect the United States to pay no-strings-attached direct compensation or reparations to the victims of rapacious pollution. There must always be hoops for victims to jump through in order to qualify for even barest recompense from the overlords. It's the neoliberal way.

Kerry in his remarks at the conference promised the initiative would generate finance that would “supplement, not replace, other forms of finance.”

Kerry’s proposal would tap private dollars to help fill the gap in climate finance. Kerry formulated the framework with heavy consultation from U.S. banks, and the State Department and the Rockefeller Foundation have held meetings with experts in New York and Washington over the past several months.

Experts who participated in those meetings said finance could be made available in advance of power sector upgrades, like the early retirement of coal plants, new wind or solar capacity, or upgrades to the power grid.

The key word is, of course, private. "Financing" measures to combat climate change in poor countries sound suspiciously like predatory lending... on top of the already predatory IMF debt imposed on Global South nations by the banking cartel. The too big to fail/jail banks and the military-industrial complex - in other words, the main culprits in climate change - will get to decide how to pretend to reverse climate change while cashing in on an existential threat. Let's face it, their sociopathy makes Trumpism look like a comparative pimple. All pimples eventually go away. It's the systemic disease that's fatal.

Now, about the pandemic, and our government's de facto program of eugenics. Despite Biden's decree a few months back, Covid is very much still not over. His administration did grudgingly extend the federal public health emergency right before the midterms, out of fear that canceling it - the result being millions of people potentially getting kicked off expanded Medicaid and food assistance - would also lead to negative political outcomes for the Democrats.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra promised to give the states 60 days' notice (by this mid-month) before formally ending the official emergency, which is now due to expire on January 11th. With an expected winter surge of variants, and despite the inconvenient truth that between 300 and 400 US citizens are still dying from this virus every single day, the administration has been dropping ominous hints, such as issuing guidelines for states to deal with the "churn" that such a gratuitous stop in aid implies. Pediatricians are especially concerned, given the concurrent outbreaks of severe influenza and RSV that already are filling some hospitals to the breaking point.  

The double whammy of ending both food and medical benefits to the most vulnerable people at this moment in time would be especially cruel, given that food security and health security are inseparable human needs. And it's not even taking into account the increasing cost of groceries, caused in large part by the greed of corporations like the aforementioned Coca-Cola. According to the public health journal STAT:

Households rarely experience food insecurity, poverty, or poor health in isolation. Instead, they are linked in a cycle in which high health care costs strain household budgets and lead to food insecurity while, at the same time, food insecurity leads to stress and poor nutrition, which results in poor health.

Given significant gaps between wages and costs of living for families with low incomes, households generally participate in multiple federal assistance programs to make ends meet. In 2017, 89% of children receiving SNAP support also received support from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). During Covid-19, both programs experienced dramatic increases in enrollment.

Even though the White House has cast blame on a gridlocked Congress for failing to appropriate more funds to fight the pandemic, Biden himself never made Covid an issue during the campaign. But serendipitously enough, a repeat of a Georgia Senate seat runoff may force the White House to delay its plans again, and extend the federal health emergency at least through March 2023. Just as they did in the 2020 runoff, the Democrats might have to continue their campaign into December. It was during the last time the Senate was up for grabs that Biden held out the carrot of $2,000 checks for every American, only to switch to the grudging stick of $1,400 once Team Blue won their slim majority.

So maybe the poor and the sick, the young and the old, will receive another brief stay of execution for purely political reasons. Maybe the estimated 14 percent of children rescued from poverty by the public health declaration renewals can eat and go to the doctor for another three months.

Regardless of electoral outcome, Congress will remain the same as it ever was: a Dead Sea where democracy drowned decades ago, and where only the politicos and influence peddlers are still visible, bobbing about in the pool like celebrity contestants in the corporate-funded zombie olympics.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Biden's Speech: Control Vs Chaos

Joe Biden seems to have finally abandoned his Dark Brandon persona. On Wednesday, he debuted as the hapless Maxwell Smart vs the Dark Forces.

 He told the electorate that the only thing we have to fear is Chaos itself. Or in the worst case scenario, KAOS, which ranks right up there with the Armageddon SOS that he gave to some rich donors awhile back. 

 Would you believe that the most dastardly villain in all of American history has never been criminally charged for instigating a riot in the Capitol nearly two years ago? Nor has he been charged with any number of other crimes related to his attempted overturning of the 2020 election results. Because having Donald Trump rotting in a Club Fed somewhere instead of freely spinning his dark sticky web all over the World Order would rob the Democrats of their whole reason for existing. Without a hit show with which to titillate and scare the voters in the audience, they might even be forced to address some their own political malpractice. The relentless bipartisan robbing and exploitation of the poor to reward the rich is what created their Trump monster in the first place.

They don't want to touch the financial plights of the electorate with a ten-foot pole. They want people to forget about their rent being too damned high, and eggs costing $4 or $5 or $6 a dozen. With our very Democracy at stake, and KAOS knocking at the door, shelter and food should be the least of our worries. And why waste time fretting about catching COVID for the third or fourth time, with hundreds of Americans still dying from it every single day, when the much more lethal plague of Election Denialism is sweeping the country?

Biden apparently had no other choice but to ignore the poor and the struggling. Logically enough, he thus began his appeal for votes by bemoaning the recent shocking attack on an uber-wealthy member of the political aristocracy:

Good evening, everyone.

Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 a.m. in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest-ranking official in America. He carried in his backpack zip ties, duct tape, rope and a hammer.

As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps. But she wasn’t there. Her husband, my friend Paul Pelosi, was home alone. The assailant tried to take Paul hostage. He woke him up, and he wanted to tie him up. The assailant ended up using a hammer to smash Paul’s skull. Thankfully, by the grace of God, Paul survived.

Biden evokes an image of Paul as an aging Macaulay Culkin, home all alone, forgotten and abandoned. Or at least that's the impression I got from his intro. I'd previously been thinking of Paul Pelosi as a latter-day Louis XVI, who in the alternate history version, is cruelly abandoned by Marie Antoinette to the mob at the very height of the French Revolution. What with Our Democracy supposedly in so much danger, the reported lack of security at the Pelosi manse is especially baffling. Then again, the Democratic Party also has been bankrolling extreme right-wingers in the midterms, under the weird theory that they're so nuts they could not possibly win against a centrist establishment Dem. Until, of course, they do.

OK, so now that Biden has completely convinced the peasants to be sympathetic to the person commonly - or should I say royally - described as being "second in line to the presidency", he will now convince them to be secondarily sympathetic with the various low-level, local election officials and other courtiers whose secondary lives also have been threatened by The Mob. It was an appeal to a more virtuous form of unthinking patriotism, or robotic nationalism:

 My fellow Americans, we’re facing a defining moment, an inflection point. We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.

Biden did not go so far as to order federal troops to guard these threatened polling places, or to request that the United Nations send in monitors to validate the balloting and counting, as is done in other, less exceptional banana republics. Rather, he wants powerless regular people to "stand up" for the carefully selected elite candidates in both establishment parties and to protect the feckless Democrats by electing even more feckless Democrats.

 Standing up for ourselves? That can wait for another time, I reckon.

Biden hinted that despite the looming political apocalypse, he will indeed work with the far-right authoritarian Republicans and wannabe dictators after the elections:

I know there’s a lot at stake in these midterm elections, from our economy, to the safety of our streets, to our personal freedoms, to the future of health care and Social Security, Medicare. It’s all important. But we’ll have our differences, we’ll have our difference of opinion. And that’s what it’s supposed to be.

Ominous, because as someone who has called for cutting Social Security and Medicare for his entire half-century as an elected official, Biden intimates he'll be just as willing to wheel and deal with the GOP over "reforms" as he ever was - just as previous modern Democratic presidents have done when they've conveniently lost their congressional majorities in mid-term elections. "And that's what its supposed to be" could be interpreted as Biden's staunch devotion to bipartisan neoliberal tradition.

What is KAOS today will be magically transformed right back to Control tomorrow.

Your own everyday trials and tribulations  will have to wait until all the theatrical  plutocratic infighting, presented for the horrified entertainment of the public, is over and done with. And then its on to the next cliff-hanging episode in which they will have to punish you in order to save you. 


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Using the Pelosi Attack As a Cudgel To Stifle Dissent

"Barack Obama Lamented the Attack on Paul Pelosi. Then He Got Heckled," indignantly exclaimed the New York Times in one of those annoying two-sentence headlines that are specifically designed to push the outrage button.

Obama, with a well-worn penchant for lecturing mere citizens for having the occasional audacity to raise their voices and talk back to their rulers and other experts, was not about to let Friday's vicious attack on Paul Pelosi go to waste. He led the Democratic Party charge in making it a campaign issue in its own right, conflating the assault on Pelosi with the plague of "incivility" sweeping the nation. 

Now, in case you were wondering what two separate hecklers actually shouted out to Obama at a midterm campaign rally in Detroit on Saturday, the article doesn't say. The subject matter is not the point. The etiquette is. So despite the fact that it didn't hear or report on the words, the Times doubled right down in decrying the continuing "incivility" in politics. The second shouter was even "escorted out" of the rally by armed security guards. That factoid alone should leave readers drawing the conclusion that anyone daring to interrupt such a revered politician in these fraught times is by very definition a violent being, and a clear and present danger to the status quo.

The Times's implied characterization of both the hecklers as anti-Pelosi thugs is not supported by any evidence whatsoever.  According to the Paper of Record, it went down like this:

“We’ve got politicians who work to stir up division to try to make us angry and afraid of one another for their own advantage,” Mr. Obama said. “Sometimes it can turn dangerous.”

Moments later, the man, who was not identified, shouted “Mr. President” at Mr. Obama, creating an off-script exchange that the former president tried to use to drive home his point. The rest of what the man said was not picked up by microphones or cameras.

“This is what I mean,” Mr. Obama said. “Right now, I’m talking. You’ll have a chance to talk sometime.”

What, exactly, is "uncivil" about prefacing a shouted statement with the honorific "Mr President?'  

And despite the article's original claim that the outburst was the direct result of Obama's remarks about Pelosi, the paper belatedly admits that the shouting didn't erupt until "moments" after that part of the speech sympathizing with the House Speaker's family had concluded.

Obama himself jumped at the chance to make a triple connection: the violent rhetoric of the extreme right, leading to the attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, followed by disruptions at the campaign rally that he was headlining.

With the advantage of a stage and a microphone and an armed security detail, Obama continued to hector the first heckler: 

Mr. Obama told the man, “You wouldn’t do that a workplace. It’s not how we do things. This is part of the point I want to make. Just basic civility and courtesy works.”

That actually speaks whole volumes. Obama admits that the capitalistic workplace is about as far away from democracy that you can get in America. When you go to work, you are expected to leave all your basic human rights and needs at the door, lest you lose your job and the ability to even live. If you are, however, properly quiet and obsequious to your boss, then you will be left alone until such time that you get old or sick or hurt, or become otherwise unprofitable or redundant.

"Basic civility and courtesy works," all right - for the anti-union bosses, owners, and the investors in the company.

Obama, meanwhile, got the crowd firmly on his side and not on the side of the two dissenters. Even as he decried how Republicans cynically pit regular people against one another for their own enrichment, the former president himself pitted the people in the crowd against each another. It was a massive pile-on. The people who cheered and applauded Obama  for "schooling" the hecklers probably never even heard a word of what they said. As far as they were concerned, rudely interrupting a celebrity politician automatically cancels out all concerns or grievances, no matter how legitimate they may be.

It turns out there are more ways than Trumpism to threaten an alleged democracy.

"You'll get a chance to talk sometime," were Obama's own dismissive parting words to the first interrupter. Of course, as far as the professional political class is concerned, the only proper place to "talk sometime" is inside a voting booth every couple of years. Or on very special, rare occasions, it may be acceptable to participate in a very civil, polite march against Donald Trump, or against the right-wing thugs on the Supreme Court... as long as it's not anywhere near their homes or favorite restaurants, of course.

In the interim, liberals are often urged to thrill to the virtue-signaling words of Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high." So, as fascistic as the Republican Party may be, professional Democrats themselves must constantly strive to be above it all and to civilly reach across that proverbial aisle to them, even to the point of their arms getting ripped out of their sockets. How else can they politely collude on waging the forever wars, and cutting Social Security as the price we all must pay for their cordial midnight agreement to raise the debt ceiling?

The trouble is, despite what these professionals say, the government and its two establishment parties are not just like a family. The CIA is neither intelligent nor part of a "community."  Calling the US war machine the Department of Defense is a sick joke. But it's ever so civil.

Politics is not and never was civil. Nor should it be. It's always a struggle and it's often messy. Therefore, the top-down lectures about "civility" from a former president who deported more people, dropped more bombs, prosecuted more whistleblowers and waged more wars than any of his predecessors are laughable on their face. 

Obama lecturing others about "civility" is, however, the time-honored way in which rulers shut down opposition and the voicing of legitimate concerns. The ploy of immediately going on the offensive against powerless people also serves to conveniently absolve themselves of culpability for their own foul deeds. After all, since they themselves have such impeccably good manners and have such well-modulated, reasonable tones of voice, they can get away with anything.

Obama himself has crafted such an incandescent and impervious media image that of all the basketball teams on the planet, he is reportedly choosing to buy a stake in the Phoenix Suns. As one NBC sports pundit tells it, "the money guys would be so happy to have him in the front."

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

All They Are Saying Is, Give War a Chance

 Only days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was heckled at a town hall in her Queens district for her support for the US's proxy war with Russia, what with the increasing chance of nuclear weapons, the House Progressive caucus sent a polite letter to Joe Biden, asking that he at least consider diplomacy at some vague point in the future.

The reaction to the dreaded D word was swift and it was hysterical. It came from what can now only be termed the Neocon Party, a consortium of Democrats and "moderate" Republicans and their assorted partners in the Deep State/Permanent Ruling Class/Blob, along with their shills in the corporate media. With such a tsunami of outrage coming at them, Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal quickly withdrew their baby toes from the shallow River of Peace and hastened to strenuously wipe them dry with the American flag of freedom. 

 Jayapal contended the letter was released by staff without proper vetting and said it improperly conflated her caucus’ position with GOP divisions over providing more aid to Ukraine aid, which Democrats back. She withdrew the letter after the embarrassing intra-party feud.

“The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, said in a statement. “The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting. As Chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this.”

Nobody wants to be accused of being a Putin puppet or a Trump cultist,  or even of whispering the reality that Ukraine itself has been a full-fledged American puppet state for almost a decade, if not longer.  Its first post-coup finance minister was, after all not only American, she was an alumna of both the US Treasury and State Departments. She became a Ukraine citizen one day after getting the chief financial officer post in 2014. Its president, Zelensky, is a made-for-American TV actor whose last gig was, in fact, the lead in a hit Ukrainian TV show.  But to even hint that the United States is shamelessly using one of the poorest, most oppressed European countries as cover for its rapacious war for the globe's energy and other resources would be an insult to a weakening Superpower. 

 So would mentioning that Joe Biden is a consummate hypocrite. The man now mouthing such concern for the suffering Ukrainian people  himself increased their suffering when as vice president, he ordered their parliament to raise their retirement ages and to stop subsidizing their high energy costs. The imposition of austerity on regular people was necessary, he said, to pay back a fortune in predatory IMF loans and to atone for the country's political corruption. This was during the same time that his own son was raking in millions sitting on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian energy company.  

Instead of directly confronting Biden in her letter, Jayapal flattered him, gushing:

 Your support for the self-defense of an independent, sovereign, and democratic state has been supported by Congress, including through various appropriations of military, economic and humanitarian aid in furtherance of this cause. Your administration’s policy was critical to enable the Ukrainian people, through their courageous fighting and heroic sacrifices, to deal a historic military defeat to Russia, forcing Russia to dramatically scale back the stated goals of the invasion.

She then ever so so gently pivots to the specter of World War III and nukes, suggesting that it might behoove Biden to talk to Putin, despite the White House's insistence that it will prevent any such meeting from taking place at an upcoming summit, lest a ceasefire ensue. This avoidance might prove to be very difficult, given Biden's penchant for losing his way when departing from various stages, and even forgetting how to get home after a tree-planting ceremony right in his own backyard this week. So wouldn't it be something if Biden's senile confusion led to the inadvertent beginning of the end of the war? Anyway, it's fun to imagine Biden barging into Putin in the VIP steam-room or in a soundproof gold-plated bathroom stall.

But I digress. Even before her forced "clarification" followed by the full retraction, Jayapal's entire letter reads like a case study in Orwellian "war is peace" Newspeak. Although war is indeed hell and a prime cause of worldwide inflation, famine, poverty and death, she agreed that it is simply not US Superpower's place to put pressure on its vassal state to sit down with Putin.

This specious argument for endless grinding war and death is like a mafia boss complaining that he doesn't have the power to call off a hired hit, let alone a full fledged mob war. Not only would stopping the bloodbath be unethical, it would hurt the feelings and disrespect the dignity of his devoted hired hitmen. Worst of all, the godfather himself would lose face and the respect of his entire extended family of consiglieres and capos.

So even as the world starves and burns, American hegemony will gorge itself, all the while covering its own rear end by feigning subservience to the very puppet regime that it created in the first place.

And thus, sensibly sensing that she and her progressive caucus were on the verge of violating the sacred principle of Omerta, with possible consequences including loss of access to the Neocon Party's ATM machine, Jayapal quickly backtracked, even before her formal retraction, vowing: "Let me be clear. We are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion, and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support.”

Repeat after me and write it on the blackboard a hundred times: "D stands for Democrat - not for Diplomacy!"

Jayapal and her caucus have shown themselves to be more devoted to their careers ("party unity") than they are to saving the world from poverty, starvation, displacement, hunger, and even from a nuclear holocaust. That is some dedication! To Jayapal's credit, though, she at least wrote her retracted, wishy-washy letter, thus making the slightest little crack in the hegemonic propaganda. Whether this crack widens despite herself, or whether her caucus is able to mend their booboo with multiple gobs of Superpowerglue and billions of dollars more in war appropriations remains to be seen.

True to party-politics form, Jayapal is passive-aggressively blaming the release of the letter on an underling who sent it out by total mistake - but of course Jayapal is taking full responsibility for the "slipup".

Now get out there, proles, and vote as if your very lives depended on it. You can even use the write-in option while doing your democratic duty. Or, you can just leave it blank in the French way, as I did for the New York State Senate contest several election cycles in a row. Even though it turned out that "Blank" got way more votes than my unopposed GOP Senator John Bonacic, Senator Blank was still denied the election, and Bonacic usurped the will of the voters and took office again and again. It was a real slap in the face to Our Democracy™. Go figure. 

On the bright side, when I do vote next month, I will be the lucky recipient of this award-winning sticker from the Ulster County Board of Elections:

It's the creation of 14-year-old Hudson Rowan of Marbletown, NY, who on the urging of his mom, entered the county's art contest for teenagers, most of whom are of course too young to vote. H
udson told the media that his multicolored "robot spider crab" is meant to symbolize the globe-encompassing chaos that is electoral politics. His entry actually got more votes than there are registered voters in all of Ulster County.

So much for the voter apathy that the politicians are always kvetching about.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

When All Else Fails, Shame the Voters

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is blaming the unappreciative audience for their tepid response to the latest episode of the House's January Sixth Extravaganza. Given the fawning media reviews of her own bravura performance, the low ratings are such a downer, especially after all the trouble that she went to in keeping it entertaining. She'd even arranged for her videographer daughter to be on-set to film her up close and personal, vowing to punch Donald Trump in the face and then "go to jail" for doing so. If we couldn't even share her outrage over the "poo on the floors" of the sacred Capitol, or think about the custodians who had to clean the mess up, then there must be something horribly wrong with us.

So to remind us of what we missed, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell lackadaisically wound up her corporate game-arm and pitched her softball to Pelosi last week:

  In one new poll, again, 39 percent of voters say that they would vote for an election denier – and this included some Democrats and independents – if they liked their stance on other issues. How do you explain that?

Pelosi: I don't – can't explain it.  I think it's a tragedy for our country that people don't value the vision that our Founders had about a democracy, what our men and women in uniform fight for, about freedom and our democracy, here and other places in the world and, again, what that means to our children.  We have to give them – many children born now will live into the next century.  We have to make sure they have a planet that is safe, that – a democracy that is strong and values that are respected and agreed upon.  That's not what – the path that the Republicans are on.

Pelosi did depart from her voter-shaming exercise at least long enough to admit that her own particular version of "democracy" is strictly confined to people voting on Election Day, and that their votes then be accurately counted. Whether or not they will eventually count in the halls of poweris left studiously unmentioned. The tragedy for Pelosi is that people who've had it drummed into them for most of their lives that "there is no alternative," and that they have no real power, still cannot just pull themselves out of their doldrums long enough to cast a ballot for someone else to "represent" them. For pre-selected politicians to win and to keep power, voters must persist in believing that they can't manage either their own lives or the problems of society as a whole. They need some sort of savior or expert or Mother Superior to do it for them.

The tragedy for Nancy Pelosi is that too many people are getting too wise to the con to even bother participating in the holy sacrament of voting booth communion. Or else they're just flat-out heretics, opting for devil-worshiping the corpus of Donald Trump and his imitators.

After all, our assigned role as US citizens is to be consumers in the marketplace and attendees at the spectacle - not activists in direct politics or actors in improvisational, experimental theater. 

 It has been drummed into us by a consolidated media that only a select category of people are fit to act and to govern.  Since "representative democracy" has devolved into professionalized politics coupled with public apathy, the real tragedy is that Nancy Pelosi thinks that the same old drugs and cattle prods will continue to hook and lull and scare people, getting them alternately high on proxy wars and anesthetized by the Broadway version of Hamilton and scared witless by Trump. 

She is essentially blaming the oppressed and exploited and disheartened for their own inability to thrill to the spectacle, whether it be of the high priests and priestesses huddling behind their poop-spattered walls, or soldiers and civilians spattered by the blood of the US Imperium's perpetual global wars for "freedom."  

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders reprised his own role as relief pitcher for the Dems, appearing on CNN to warn that young people and working class people won't turn out to vote unless the party starts concentrating on economic issues to supplement their promise to "fight for" abortion rights:

I think what the Democrats have got to say is we are going to stand with working people, we’re prepared to take on the drug companies, we’re prepared to take on the insurance companies and create an economy that works for all of us.

 Well, as long as they "stand with" their constituents and "prepare to" devise an appealing agenda with just a few short weeks to go before the curtain rises on Election Spectacular '22, it seems like it's a little late to be learning new lines, let alone rewriting the whole plot. And these are the alleged professionals with the experience that you, supposedly, so sorely lack.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Abortion Economics, Neoliberal-Style

With a GOP midterm blowout almost a forgone conclusion, the Democrats finally seem to be heeding the warning that their one-issue campaign on abortion rights is not quite catching on with the inflation-battered electorate.  They're just now beginning to take the Clintonoid nostrum of "It's the Economy, Stupid!" to heart.  Or so it may seem.

Because if Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams's own version of the intersectionality between reproductive rights and economic rights is any indication,  their messaging pivot to bread and butter issues becomes just more tasty fodder for the right.

Here's the MSNBC appearance by Abrams that has Republicans reaching for the knives and forks:

The right has immediately taken out of context her clumsy statement that "having children is why you're worried about your price for gas, it's why you're concerned about how much food costs."

This seeming correlation of child-bearing with inflation has "shocked political observers," crowed the reactionary New York Post, its own interpretation being that Abrams claimed that it's more cost-effective to kill babies than it is to feed them.

"Despicable," chimed in Ted Cruz in his best Texas drawl version of Bugs Bunny. 

"Demonic," Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona alliteratively agreed. 

Isn't it awful that those elitist Democrats are now reduced to even blaming kids for having the effrontery to be born?

Lather, rinse, repeat. Stacey Abrams is now doing what the Dems do best: defending themselves against scurrilous charges of perfidy from the Republicans - in lieu of, say, the feckless Dems coming up with a new agenda for the greater good.

If only Abrams could have supplemented - nay, prevented - her mad scramble to damage control with some radical policy prescriptions to appeal to the voters, then it might have been a whole different story. What if she had gone beyond merely acknowledging that women who are forced to bear children are condemned to poverty, by first of all admitting that this is precisely because Bill Clinton colluded with te GOP to abolish Aid to Families With Dependent Children back in the 1990s?  What if she had proposed single payer health insurance for all people, from cradle to grave?  What if she had proposed universal government-subsidized child care, the construction of guaranteed housing, a debt-free higher education? Then, perhaps, the fascist Republicans would have a lot more fodder to chew on besides the Dems' alleged new plot to sell the unwanted fetuses of the poor for food, a la Jonathan Swift's satirical solution to the Irish potato famine. 

What really would have riled them up was if Abrams had called for taxing the rich and corporations at Eisenhower era levels - in Georgia and throughout the country - in order to pay for all these radical new programs for the greater good.  A demand to end the forever-wars might have done the trick as well, despite the GOP's current totally phony opposition to funding the US proxy war in Ukraine.

As it is, given that Abrams's $20 million-plus campaign is funded by tax-averse corporations and wealthy liberal donors, she has had to settle for criticizing Brian Kemp, Georgia's current governor, for his refusal to allow Medicaid expansion in the state under the privatized Obamacare regimen, along with his vicious refusal to avail the state of even the very temporary and very inadequate rent relief and eviction protections afforded by last year's American Rescue Plan.

The standard neoliberal messaging about the economy prevails. As the Democratic platform pertains to women in particular, as long as they are recognized as full human beings with full-spectrum "access" to health care, and as long as they "work hard," then any relief from their economic burdens by the government will remain piecemeal, temporary and strictly means-tested. The shame poison pill will remain.

Interestingly enough, Stacy Abrams's remarks about abortion and inflation were in response to former President Barack Obama's own complaints last week that when it comes to their messaging and campaigning,  the Dems have been a real "buzzkill." 

It does, after all, sometimes take a scold to scold a scold.

 "You know, sometimes, people just want to not feel as if they are walking on eggshells. And they want some acknowledgment that life is messy and that all of us at any given moment can say things the wrong way, make mistakes.” Obama lectured in a Pod Save America podcast.

Here's looking at you, Stacey, Obama might have added were he as prescient as he pretends. As it was, he showed his own respect for womenfolk as he clumsily dished that his elderly mother-in-law is "struggling to learn the right phraseology to talk about issues" from his exasperated and long-suffering wife Michelle. This re-education vocabulary regimen stems from GOP blowback over such slogans as "defund the police," he lectured. 

I wonder if the learning of proper phraseology could be made intersectional with politicians' acknowledging that people's lives are miserable, thus teaching the lower orders that as long as they and their diverse identities are "recognized" by the ruling elite, then their desire for food, shelter and health care will disappear with just the right dose of Neoliberal Narrative. A spoonful of messaging might help the messiness go down, in other words.

I wonder if Stacey Abrams is thinking up some radical new phraseology with which to convey her very own heartfelt "Thanks, Obama" message.