Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Biden's Manifesto of Death

Chalking up his reckless call for removing Putin from power to a spontaneous moment of righteous outrage, President Biden has quickly pivoted to calling for more disempowerment and oppression of the serfs back here in The Homeland.

His proposed 2023 federal budget is a deadly and belligerent manifesto for more austerity, more war, and a vast enhancement of the domestic police state.

In true Orwellian doublethink fashion, though, the insider-y Politico news site is calling this gruesome document a "peace offering" to Acting President Joe Manchin, senator of West Virginia. Even the usual progressive congress-critters, according to the article, are willing to give Biden "the space to play." For is not the US political establishment itself the Disneyland centerpiece of the hegemonic World Order, a theme park full of bullies, toadies and untold throngs of silent victims?

Biden was happy to revert for just a moment from his role of global warmongering bully as he addressed the media on Monday:

“The first value is fiscal responsibility. The previous administration as you all know, ran record budget deficits. In fact, it went up every year under my predecessor. My administration is turning that around. Last year, we cut the deficit by more than $350 billion. This year, we’re on track to cut the deficit by more than $1,300,000,000,000. That would be the largest one-year reduction in the deficit in US history.”

And as the document itself more belligerently puts it, 

 “We are at the beginning of a decisive decade that will determine the future of strategic competition with China, the trajectory of the climate crisis and whether the rules governing technology, trade and international economics enshrine or violate our democratic values.”

Meanwhile, following the cynical tradition of all his Democratic predecessors, Biden also made sure to tack on the usual "balancing" suggestions of modestly taxing billionaires and corporations in order to vaguely protect the environment and fund a very few new, barely adequate programs to address a panoply of domestic social and health catastrophes - funding which is guaranteed to fail in Congress. He is giving the oligarchs who own and run the country everything that they want in the way of amusement. He even took special care to emphasize that "I am a capitalist."

Or, as the New York Times spins it, the poor old reactionary is being forced to bow to"political reality" which, apparently, is the Gray Lady's euphemism for giving oligarchs and corporations everything they want.

To add further insult to the injury of this elitist "reality", Uncle Joe also finds his aged spine so buffeted by those pesky "gale-force headwinds" from the narrow-minority Republican wing of the Uniparty that he and his fellow Democrats sadly will be forced to huddle in their storm cellars without actually doing much about the worsening climate catastrophe that is killing, dispossessing and dispersing poor people from all over the globe. Unfortunately, Biden's "bipartisan unity agenda" will have to take precedence for now. The priority must not be the lives of everyday people, but the political fortunes of a few centrist Democrats in danger of losing their seats next fall.

As veteran Washington reporter Jonathan Weisman writes in his own Times-splainer about the Biden White House's proposed 2023 federal budget,

Its framing was a marked shift from the 2021 pitch for a fundamental transformation of an ailing American society. Instead, Mr. Biden’s plan was an appeal based on the reality of the moment, to both new dangers around the globe and at home, where inflation and crime are crushing the president’s political standing.

Endangered Democrats in swing districts have been urging Mr. Biden to counter the messages from the far left and address the kitchen-table issues facing voters with incremental steps, not transformative legislation. For them, the budget promises deficit reduction to cool the economy and tangible steps to unclog supply-chain bottlenecks that contribute to rising prices.

Of course, Biden's call for deficit reduction is not reflected in his military budget, which includes the largest ever increase in spending, at almost $800 billion - or about $2 billion a day for the relentless waging of global war. Given his recent, reckless provocations of a fellow nuclear power, his demand for a radically increased production of nuclear weapons also comes as no great surprise.

The Times article continues,

Far from defunding the police and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two popular slogans on the left, the budget robustly funds both. Customs and Border Protection would receive $15.3 billion and ICE $8.1 billion, including $309 million for border security technology — a well-funded effort to stop illegal migration. The nation’s two primary immigration law enforcement agencies would see increases of around 13 percent.

The budget even includes $19 million for border fencing and other infrastructure.

Federal law enforcement would receive $17.4 billion, a jump of nearly 11 percent, or $1.7 billion, over 2021 levels. And the president, acknowledging widespread concerns that are driving Republican attacks against Democrats, vowed to tackle the rise in violent crime.

As Biden himself proclaimedat his budget-unveiling press conference, “The answer is not to defund our police departments. It’s to fund our police and give them all the tools they need… The budget puts more police on the streets for community policing so they get to know the community they are policing.” 

When the Times opened up its article about the proposed budget to reader comments, reaction was sparse (about 50), compared to the 6.3 thousand outraged reactions to the Number One Trending story in America, concerning the Academy Awards "slapgate" controversy.

But, unlike the accolades about the Biden Wish List so dutifully being gushed out by the "progressive" congressional caucus, these 50 reader comments were almost uniformly critical of the Democrats' unabashed right-wing priorities. And not only were further comments soon cut off, within only a few hours, all the published ones were also mysteriously removed from the article. They simply were not in keeping with the usual positive responses from the paper's liberal readership to Joe Biden and his party.

Here is (was) my own published comment:

As outlined in this article, this budget is nothing less than a manifesto of death.
Increased production of nuclear weapons, and what amounts to military funding with no limits actually cancels out the window dressing of climate change amelioration. The US military already is the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet and therefore the globe's biggest polluter. If the extra funding for police were earmarked for stringent programs that psychologically evaluate aspiring cops, weeding out the sociopaths with a penchant for power and cruelty, then great. But if the money will be going to more military weaponization of local police forces, and giving precedence to returning vets, a good percentage of whom suffer from PTSD as a result of long deployments in our endless wars, then we can probably look forward to a lot more George Floyds and Breonna Taylors and Eric Garners The increased funding not only should be used for psychological profiling of candidates, but to pay for the higher education of police officers, particularly in the field of social work.
The alleged motivation behind the "centrist" Biden budget, as explained in this article, is to fend off Republican criticism of the Dems allegedly being "soft on crime," increasing the re-election chances of vulnerable incumbents. In other words, the Ds are trying to beat the GOP at their own depraved game. The sound you hear in this proposed budget is not one hand clapping. It's an empire crumbling.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Orwell In the Arctic

From an official Pentagon document:

Our Army exists to protect our nation and to preserve the peace. To meet that core requirement, the Army must man, train, equip, and organize to win in the Arctic. The Arctic is simultaneously an arena of competition, a line of attack in conflict, a vital area holding many of our nation’s natural resources, and a platform for global power projection. The Army is committed to defending our Arctic interests. Accordingly, the Army will field a Multi-Domain Task Force-enabled division and adjust our Alaskan-based brigade combat teams to regain the U.S. Army’s Arctic dominance. This rejuvenated Arctic capability will increase the Army’s ability to operate in extreme cold-weather, mountainous, and high-altitude environments. This strategy poises the Army to adapt how it generates, postures, trains, and equips our forces to execute extended, multi-domain operations in extreme conditions in support of the Joint warfighter. Restoring Arctic dominance also requires an inherently Total Army approach incorporating the Army Reserve and National Guard. 

The opening paragraph of this grossly under-reported 2021 manifesto, effectively announcing the ultimate extension of the current proxy war of the US vs Russia (the physical battlefield being limited thus far to the impoverished, IMF-indebted US vassal state of Ukraine), is a near-perfect example of the Doublethink defined by George Orwell in his semi-fictional classic, 1984:

 The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them to forget the fact that has become inconvenient and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge and so on indefinitely, with the lie always  one step ahead of the truth.

But even going beyond the self-contradictory and mind-numbing  "war for peace" rhetoric is the arrogant assumption that the entire Arctic region is the sole property of the US-based oil companies, which are euphemized as "our national interests."

In point of fact, under international law, although no one nation-state can "own" the Arctic Ocean or the North Pole, the rapidly-melting sea ice means that Canada and Russia each own most of the Arctic coast-line. The United States owns only Alaska, which the Russian foreign minister only half-facetiously demanded be returned to it as the Ukraine invasion began.

But back to the Army's Orwellian manifesto. While readily admitting that the melting of the sea ice is directly attributable to the burning of fossil fuels, the US hegemon will fight to the death for the right of its subsidized oil companies to continue extracting these fossil fuels, even to the point of global suicide. And as the largest consumer of oil and the single largest contributor to pollution and climate change in the entire world, the Pentagon knows whereof it speaks. This is, at its essential rotten core, a fight for its own continued existence as a deadly force.

As the world's sole remaining Superpower, possessing nearly one thousand military bases compared to Russia's nine, the US hegemon nevertheless feels threatened by Russia's geographic Arctic advantage, in that the European Arctic, largely controlled by Russia, is far more accessible than the North American sections.  So, while the Army is ramping up severe weather training for its human troops in Alaska, it is also quietly occupying sections of Norway in preparation for an Arctic war for oil on the Eastern front.

Even as US troops have been surged to an increasingly vulnerable Poland, they're also playing war games in Norway, which itself owns quite a decent chunk of the thawing Arctic. Last week, this under-reported reality was brought to light with news that four Marines had been killed in a helicopter crash during "Exercise Cold Response 2022."

The official narrative of the accident, via the reliably non-critical oil and war-subsidized CNN, is every bit as Orwellian as you might expect:

According to NATO’s website, Cold Response 2022 is “a long-planned exercise bringing together thousands of troops from NATO Allies and partners, testing their ability to work together in cold weather conditions across Norway – on land, in the air and at sea.”

“This year’s exercise was announced over eight months ago,” the NATO site said. “It is not linked to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, which NATO is responding to with preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory measures.”

Preparations for an escalation of the war for oil have been duly euphemized as a triathlon of athletic competition, with the ultimate aim being the fostering of good will, peace and understanding among the good weaponized people of the earth. Russian oil and gas have zilch, nothing, nada to do with it.

As reported here, the US Marines actually landed on Norway's melting shores five years ago, for what was promised to be only a temporary, six-month-long training exercise:

For the first time since Hitler assaulted much of Europe in World War II, the American military is setting up a "rotational" base in the Scandinavian nation as a sign of chest-thumping strength against an allegedly threatening Russia. Not even during the Communist era of Cold War expansionism did Norway, always a fiercely independent social democratic country, ever invite any foreign military power to help it defend itself against a potential enemy. As a matter of fact, the Norwegian government signed an agreement with the Soviet Union immediately after World War II promising, after it joined NATO, that it would never allow foreign troops to be permanently stationed on its own soil.

So, now that the "allegedly" has finally been removed from the Russian threat, perhaps the hearts and minds of the then-recalcitrant Norwegian locals, so shocked and dismayed by the sight of Marines slogging through the snow in their jungle fatigues, will be softened enough to accept their occupation graciously. Goodness knows, judging from the civilian and media chest-thumping on display here in The Homeland, the relentless propaganda has worked its magic, and most of us have overcome the "sickly inhibitions" or unreasonable aversion to slaughter of innocents, a malady which so long ago was caustically diagnosed by the ever-ascendant Neocons as the "Vietnam Syndrome."

There are, in any case, no signs yet of another 60s-style antiwar movement. Maybe we'll protest if/when they reinstitute the draft. Never say never, because despite having outsize military strength and obscene wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs and corporations, our ruling elites are feeling more than a little paranoid. Their status of sole remaining Superpower is dwindling fast. Russia may lack the military strength, but both its existing and potential fossil fuel wealth (and possible partnership with both China and the Saudis) have made it an incipient economic superpower. Ergo, the increasing and increasingly ineffective economic sanctions by the Biden administration against it.

It's becoming a multipolar world, and as John Mearsheimer writes in "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" multipolarity is the most dangerous kind. The bipolarity of the previous Cold War between the US and Russia was not as dangerous as the current situation, because MAD (mutually assured destruction of two competing nuclear powers) actually served to cancel out nuclear war.

Russia, the de facto re-emerging economic hegemon, coupled with the rise of China, has caused the US and its NATO allies to recklessly court nuclear war. Mearsheimer warned two decades ago that 

"A potential hegemon does not have to do much to generate fear among other states in the system. Its formidable capabilities alone are likely to scare neighboring great powers and push at least some of them to create a balancing coalition against their dangerous opponent. Because a state's intentions are difficult to discern, and because they can change quickly, rival great powers are inclined to assume the worst about the potential hegemon's intentions, further reinforcing the threatened states' incentive to contain it and maybe even weaken it, if the opportunity presents itself."

The upshot, Mearsheimer presciently concluded more than two decades ago, is that "hegemons generate spirals of fear that are hard to control. This problem is compounded by the fact that they possess considerable power and thus are likely to think they can solve their security problems by going to war."

Both Russia and the US are contributing mightily to the "spiral of fear," and the American oil and weapons-funded corporate media are doing their best to both speed it up and drill it down. President Joe Biden, who ghoulishly acknowledged at his NATO press conference the other day that since he is "long in the tooth" he is an expert at war, is doing his own best to contribute to the endless spiral, warning the public about incipient chemical and biological and cyber weapons attacks from the latest reincarnation of Hitler. By calling Putin a thug, a butcher and a war criminal (even if arguably true) Biden is being recklessly provocative, even now stating he is open to a first strike nuclear attack - with kinder, gentler, "smarter" bombs, no doubt.

Meanwhile, back in The Homeland, the official policy is to studiously ignore the more pressing biological problem of Covid-19 and to appoint a new Covid "czar" whose own ballyhooed talent is calming the public into even more complacency, submission and denial than has already been engendered within it. Biden would be better advised to tone down some of his taunts to Russia and save just a little of his playground name-calling for Congress. But he won't, because they're all members of the same corrupt club, and the status quo suits him just fine.

The New Orwellian Normal can be defined as learning to live with our own utterly preventable and unnecessary misery, destruction, and even deaths. We are urged to "share the sacrifice" of record food shortages and cost of living increases and endless wars for profit with the very same demented fools who cause all the problems in the first place. This foolery is not just limited to Uncle Joe or Vlad the Impaler Hitler, not by a long shot. Next in line for the US imperialist throne:

Doublethink is not only the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts and beliefs in an elite brain at the same time, but to communicate the nonsense to one's subjects effectively and with the requisite obfuscation posing as sanity. So, should we call the above example a Sad Semantic Spiral, or DoubleNegativethink?

Notwithstanding the insanity of Daylight Saving Time, the least that Kamala Harris could have done was to mangle Shakespeare and admit that the significance of the passage of time signifies nothing at all. She and her cohort should celebrate their nihilism with their words as well as with their foul deeds.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Zients Finally Gets the Romanov Treatment

So, Joe Biden has reluctantly seized a little of his executive power and finally fired his "Covid Czar" crony Jeff Zients today. The execution was only about a year too late, given that this patently unqualified Wall Street consultant and fixer had botched his job so badly, on so many different levels, that untold millions of people all over the world have suffered preventable severe disease and death as a result.

Biden had been under pressure for months from legitimate public health experts and political progressives to give Zients the ax, not least because of the administration's passive-aggressive refusal to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would have forced private corporations to produce enough protective equipment and medication to meet surges in the pandemic. Zients also had outright balked at allocating resources to fight the virus abroad, thus lengthening the pandemic's duration and enabling more mutations to pop up and sicken more people.

As The American Prospect reported in January, when the Omicron variant of the virus was wreaking such havoc, any humanitarian efforts on the part of the Biden administration "would have required angering powerful forces in corporate America" -

Forcing Moderna to share their vaccine recipe, in an economy in which so many of the highest-valued corporations exist by exploiting flaws in our intellectual-property system (e.g., Microsoft, Apple, Big Pharma, Disney) and compelling mass production sites across the world, would have engendered corporate backlash. If the government cast aside patents for COVID vaccines, could software or movies be next? Following this corporate line of thought, and disregarding the necessity of vaccinating the world, Zients has not pushed domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity in this direction. And while President Biden endorsed waiving intellectual-property rights on vaccines last April, there’s been no movement since on that front."

So why fire Zients now? Well, as the New York Times soft-pedals it, Zients has effectively completed his job, and he has completed it quite well. There was no effort by the Times to connect the dots between Zients's departure and his replacement by a qualified physician and public health expert (Dr. Ashish K.Jha) who also just happens to be a frequent cable talking head who has been, at times, a vocal critic of the White House's pathetic response to the pandemic.

As a matter of fact, the Times spins the Zients departure to the pandemic being, if not officially over, then at least in one of those lulls that now lets the noble Zients finally take a well-deserved breather and return to "private" life. (As if what is still quaintly called "public service" is not itself effectively privatized.)

For the past 14 months, Mr. Zients has presided over a tumultuous and challenging stretch of the pandemic. Two highly infectious coronavirus variants, Delta and Omicron, caught the White House off guard. The public was often confused by the conflicting messages. And the vaccination campaign, while largely hailed as a success, ran into far more resistance than the president anticipated when he took office. As Mr. Zients prepares to depart, the nation's death toll is about to surpass one million. Now with three-quarters of Americans having received at least one dose of vaccine, officials said the federal response would become more of a long-term public health effort and less of a moment-by-moment crisis requiring rapid government action. If new variants of the virus spread, they said, Dr. Jha would be able to draw upon the tools his predecessor put in place during the past 14 months.

First, let's just say that the timing of the ouster is a bit curious. In just the past week, our revered former President Barack Obama has come down with Covid, as has VP Kamala Harris's hubby, as has the Irish prime minister in town and just about to meet privately with the vulnerable Biden, as have several more Democratic congress-critters who'd just been retreating to an unmasked ball to discuss new slogans for the mid-terms. It is hitting these people personally. They've turned out to be constructed of the same vulnerable tissue as everybody else, despite being triple-vaxxed and having access to all the concierge medicine that taxpayers' money can buy.

So, with the unmasked Democratic Ball's winning entry for new improved slogan being Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Democrats Deliver!," and the new "stealth" Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 threatening to mess with the administration's relaxation of Covid rules for its own crass political purposes, party leaders must now come up with their own BS.2 phase of justifying the New Normal.

The Times stenography machine is only too happy to help out on this front as well, soothing its readers in a separate article that while the BA.2 variant is "highly transmissible" it is just more of the same-old, same-old and not to worry your pretty little heads about it. The only thing to fear is that the over-hyped "decline" in daily deaths and cases might be slowed down by it. Despite its extreme contagiousness, writes Carl Zimmer, BA.2 will likely not cause a new surge in the United States. This is the same reporter who so soothingly wrote last fall that the vaccines would work very well against the Omicron variant. They turned out not to prevent infections, even in the boosted - but who remembers who said what last fall?

But I digress - back to how the Times is spinning the Zients ouster.

First, they completely ignore the fact of the firing. According to the White House, he not only is leaving voluntarily, he has had to be cajoled by Biden on numerous occasions into staying even longer than he'd originally wanted to. As far as they're concerned, Dr. Jha will simply bask in the success of his predecessor.

Next, after we're led to believe that Zients is "stepping down" by choice, we are further informed that not only was "public confusion" to blame for bad Covid outcomes, there were also the usual passive "conflicting messages" attributable to nobody in power at all. Everybody was caught in the crossfire, and nobody will ever be held accountable.

Furthermore, Dr. Jha will be able to magically "draw upon the tools" that Zients is so graciously bequeathing him. That, incidentally, is a pretty sneaky use of semantics, given that one normally uses tools rather than "drawing upon" them. Is this another way of saying that Zients's tools are simply cost-benefit analyses and spreadsheets in need of much professional TLC with a blue pencil?

It bodes ill that in announcing Jha's appointment, Biden admitted the good doctor's media savvy and "calming" cred were the factors in his getting the job - as opposed to, say, his medical cred. Despite being bound by his Hippocratic Oath of "first, do no harm," Jha might be expected to simply go along with Boss Biden's own oath to his campaign donors that "nothing will fundamentally change."

Given that Congress has sadistically refused to allocate any more money to the Covid fight, his future success as Doc Czar might be a moot point. Without the funds to "draw upon," Jha will effectively be prevented from doing his job. In fact, it looks as though he might be getting set up as the Biden administration's fall guy for when the next surge hits.

This seems quite likely, with the Times unquestioningly quoting the usual anonymous officials as saying that Jha's "background as a medical doctor makes him the right choice as the virus becomes more an endemic part of the country's health challenges." (endemic being the code word for New Normal.)

In other words, the right person to deal with the real global health emergency, which we shall now ignore and deny, was a Wall Street technocrat with no medical credentials at all. As the Times gaslights us and criticizes Zients's numerous critics,

Critics have said Mr. Zients, who made a fortune building two consultancies and taking them public, was an odd pick to run the pandemic response given his lack of experience in public health. But his past work touched on health care, both as the chief executive of the Advisory Board Company, a health care consultancy, and in the Obama administration, where he ran the effort to fix the healthcare.gov website.'

Everybody knows that making health care profitable for the oligarchy before nobly fixing a website is all the qualification one needs to deal with a global pandemic. And as long as the great Dr. Anthony Fauci himself came to Zients's defense after his predicted "summer of joy" failed to materialize, who are we to quibble with facts and cast our own stones? Nobody ever could have predicted, unless it was hordes of mere credentialed epidemiologists sounding all those alarms at the time. 

The Times actually quotes Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, as saying that all you need to fight a pandemic is "managerial talent" and being "a warm-hearted friend."  The whole West Wing is already waxing "wistful" according to the Paper of Record, because Zients got the whole country "access" to tests and vaccines. He will be maudlinly missed, big-time, by his fellow neoliberal technocrats.

Translation: if you can't have the crony, then what possible good is the capitalism?

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Global Class War Is Getting Really Ugly

The economic war declared on Russia by the US and its NATO client-states is, on the surface, payback for Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine. But this intra-global war of oligarchs is at its very essence a war of rich against poor. It's all about which oligarchy gets to extract the natural resources of one of the poorest nations on earth.

The 2014 US-backed coup against Ukraine's democratically elected president, Victor Yanukovich. was a victory not just for NATO, but for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose historical core purpose is to "open up" distressed nation-states for looting ("investment") by multinational corporations. Yanukovich had to go, because he was reneging on his agreement to impose austerity on his constituents as the price for borrowing money from the global financial system. Even worse as far as "the West" was concerned, he thought that he could get a better financial deal from Putin.

 Among the conditions that the IMF had imposed upon Ukraine for loaning it billions of dollars was raising the retirement age of Ukrainians to 60. This may sound like a reasonable demand, until you consider that Ukraine ranks a dismal 99th in the world in terms of life expectancy, and that at the time of the coup, the average Ukrainian male would be dead by the age of 67. Raising the retirement age was tantamount to a massively cruel cut in benefits.

Even so, one year after the coup, the Ukrainian government was still balking at "reforming" its pension program and raising the retirement age. It already had complied with such  IMF loan conditions as drastically increasing domestic gas prices to consumers and reducing energy subsidies.

As economist Michael Hudson noted in 2014, the US-backed coup's ensuing austerity policies, administered by the US and the IMF, would not only turn Ukraine into another Greece or Spain, they'd make Ukraine (already being even poorer than Greece and Spain) "a lot more miserable":

 German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the press last month, with all the sensitivity of a Cliven Bundy or Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, that Greece could serve as a model for Ukraine. This is like saying that the United States’ Great Depression could serve as a model for Ukraine.

But we don’t have to look to Greece or Spain to see the risks of signing on to a program of fiscal austerity and “reforms” run by the IMF and its European directors at this time. Ukraine has had its own experience not that long ago: in just 4 years from 1992-1996, Ukraine lost half of its GDP as the IMF and friends took the wrecking ball to both the Russian and Ukrainian economies . Ukraine’s economy didn’t start growing again until the 2000’s. For comparison, the worst years of the U.S. Great Depression (1929-1934) saw a real GDP loss of 36 percent.

Enter then-Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama administration's designated "point-man" for Ukraine, who brayed a year later that the austerity-driven Obama administration itself could also serve as an inspiration for Ukraine. 

 Much, actually over-much, has been made of Biden's putative task of "rooting out corruption" and punishing the "bad" oligarchs who had been looting Ukraine's treasury since the fall of the Soviet Union. (His son Hunter's own lucrative gig with a newly privatized energy sector in Ukraine was brushed off as working for a "good oligarch" who allegedly did not have a corrupt bone in his whole body.)

But when Biden showed up to give a hectoring speech to the Ukrainian Rada, or parliament, right before Christmas 2015, it was not only to inveigh against the ongoing corruption, it was also to demand that ordinary Ukrainians continue to bear the brunt of both the corruption and the predatory IMF debt.

Once Biden got through all the preliminaries, moving to soften up the the assembled politicians with the carrot of more financial aid, and the obligatory flattery for their allegiance to democracy, freedom, and human rights, he finally went full hit man and wielded his big stick: 

Yesterday I announced almost $190 million in new American assistance to help Ukraine fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, implement critical reform, bolster civil society, advance energy security.  That brings our total of direct aid to almost $760 million in direct assistance, in addition to loan guarantees since this crisis broke out.  And that is not the end of what we're prepared to do if you keep moving. 

But for Ukraine to continue to make progress and to keep the support of the international community you have to do more, as well.  The big part of moving forward with your IMF program -- it requires difficult reforms.  And they are difficult.  Let me say parenthetically here, all the experts from our State Department and all the think tanks, and they come and tell you, that you know what you should do is you should deal with pensions.  You should deal with -- as if it’s easy to do.  Hell, we're having trouble in America dealing with it.  We're having trouble.  To vote to raise the pension age is to write your political obituary in many places. 

Don't misunderstand that those of us who serve in other democratic institutions don't understand how hard the conditions are, how difficult it is to cast some of the votes to meet the obligations committed to under the IMF.  It requires sacrifices that might not be politically expedient or popular.  But they're critical to putting Ukraine on the path to a future that is economically secure.  And I urge you to stay the course as hard as it is.  Ukraine needs a budget that’s consistent with your IMF commitments.

Anything else will jeopardize Ukraine’s hard-won progress and drive down support for Ukraine from the international community, which is always tenuous.  It’s always tenuous.  We keep pushing that support.

Whenever neoliberal politicians inflict their pain on the masses, they love to insist that it hurts them as much as it hurts you. They are altruistic enough to risk their own careers for you! After all somebody has to save you from yourselves.  And so with the class war, as with any kind of  war, they appeal to your patriotism, asking that you "share the sacrifice" with the rich, who are being ever so politely asked to pay a bit more in taxes. You then will feel so much better about waiting a few more years to collect your Social Security, just so long as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk also have to pay reasonable capital gains taxes. Of course, despite all of this neoliberal posturing and gaslighting, the oligarchs eventually come out as the only winners. There are always a few useful idiots or bad cops like Joe Manchin or Mitch McConnell around to willingly take the blame.

So when Biden was so delicately urging Ukraine to raise its retirement age, or risk "losing the support of the international community," he was also implicitly bragging about the ultimately failed "Grand Bargain" with Republicans that he and Obama had pursued to raise both the Social Security and Medicare eligibility ages in the United States, thereby imposing a massive cut in lifetime benefits. Biden tried to paint his administration as a role model for the Rada, having been so politically courageous in its own pursuit of austerity for the masses of people. 

It was not for nothing that Obama had a plaque on his Oval Office desk reading "Hard Things Are Hard." 

To make the hard things less painful, the impending doom less noticeable or more akin to the proverbial frog boiling to death at a low temperature, Ukraine politicians have tried to salvage their own careers by raising the retirement age in six-month increments until 2025, while at the same time gradually increasing the work requirement years for people to qualify for a pension. 

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are fleeing their country by the millions, and their current president is begging the "international community" for fighter jets, ammo and bulletproof vests. And Joe Biden's domestic approval rating and positive media coverage have gotten just the boost that you might expect. Because hard things and hard people are hard!

Meanwhile, the mainstream media is deep in the throes of one of its periodic fever dreams. This current one is even more intense and xenophobic than the pandemic of paranoia and jingoism that we witnessed after 9/11. As The Guardian newspaper, for just one example of the war hysteria afflicting us these days, gushed in its Sunday edition:

 Just as Biden’s empathy was seen as ideal for meeting the moment of the coronavirus pandemic, and just as his record of bipartisanship was thought to be well suited to healing America’s divisions, so his storied foreign policy experience and faith in multinational institutions appear to bode well for this test.

That is certainly the view of Democrats who believe that Biden, who at 79 lived every moment of the cold war, including its gnawing dread of nuclear annihilation, has risen to the occasion. Last month he authorised $350m of military equipment – the biggest such package in US history – to bolster Ukraine’s courageous fighters who have exceeded all expectations.

Who needs an adequate pension, and freedom from poverty, and cancellation of onerous IMF debt when you can be pawned in their game as a courageous freedom fighter?

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The State of the Onion Is Mushy

 President Biden's annual spiel to the Congressional Joint the other night was like watching him painfully peel away the soggy layers of an onion that was left way too long in the pantry. He tried to present the discarded leavings of his broken campaign promises as a smorgasbord of culinary delights for his audience to savor and sample. But once he finally got through all the belabored flaying and skinning, all that was left was an empty center. Not to mention plenty of teary eyes and held noses. We at least deserved the usual political hot air, but all we got was a cold vacuum and a lingering stench. 

There was no student debt forgiveness on his menu. And in lieu of even the public health insurance appetizer that he once vowed to champion when elected, all he is offering people now is one more free Covid test kit and free antiviral medication for those who test positive. A Probe, a Pill, and a Promise. The totality of your health care needs will remain in the iron grip of the Predators and  Profiteers of the Plutocracy. You're just like an onion. Neoliberal doctrine states that everyone must have skin in the game.

But since Biden couldn't admit this cruel, hard reality to the audience at home, he doubled right down on the callousness - with the obligatory covering of bathos, of course. He shone the spotlight on a very cute 13-year-old boy with Type 1 diabetes, who was sitting in the first lady's box. Biden commiserated with young Joshua Davis's parents, who find the cost of their child's insulin to be excessive. But rather than call for insulin to be free of cost for everybody who needs it, Biden merely suggested that it become more "affordable." (Meanwhile, of course, Josh was deemed by the mainstream media to be "absolutely delighted" to have Biden wish him a happy birthday. )


Now here's where it gets really cruel. You probably noticed that Joshua, despite being more vulnerable to severe Covid because of his medical condition, was not wearing a mask. Nor were Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi and most of the congress-critters and dignitaries in attendance. 

That is because, in this brave new world of Learning to Live With Covid, it is no longer the Unvaxxed Deplorables who must be shunned. It's the masks themselves, now deemed to be a badge of shame by the very person ostensibly in charge of the nation's public health:

"I just know people are tired. The scarlet letter of this pandemic is the mask," CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky said, referencing the 19th century novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which protagonist Hester Prynne is forced to wear an embroidered "A" for having committed adultery.

Masks are so last month. Therefore, the bare-faced fashion-conscious politicians and elites attending the speech were all decked out in blue and yellow lapel pins, ties, scarves and even a gown or two, to express their solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Senator Elizabeth Warren wore a geegaw of a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, on her own jacket. The sunflower is also the state flower of Kansas. But as we should all know by now, we ain't in Kansas any more. We are in the magical land of Oz, where the wicked witch of Covid has been squashed flat by implicit decree from the very highest levels of the ruling establishment.

The only fever we should care about is War Fever! Fear not what your country is doing to you. Fear instead what Putin is doing to the country of Ukraine. We are all Ukrainians now, in case you haven't heard. More than one pundit has gushed in recent days that they look just like "us", i.e. white and preferably blond-haired and blue-eyed. As Judith Butler has written, some victims of war are considered more deserving of grief and empathy than others.

Now, if you are an older person, or immune-deficient, or disabled, or otherwise vulnerable, and you're torn between being labeled a slut and preventing your death from Covid, it still just might be possible to be patriotic and to stay alive and healthy, all at the same time!

 If the austere Biden aviator sunglasses look isn't for you, and you want protection both from Covid and from the facial recognition technology that's going around, this might be a more practical fashion choice  Be sure to get the largest size available so as to discreetly hide your big scarlet "A" of an N95 mask.

Ukraine solidarity merch and couture are available on Amazon and Walmart, or course, and wherever fine regime-change and war propaganda is sold. Which seems to be everywhere.

As Uncle Joe might say (and he actually did, at the end of his onion-peeling exercise): "Go get 'em!"

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Psy-Ops Blob Does Ukraine

Svengali-ized in the Name of Freedom!

In the US proxy war for regime change in Russia, it is important that the American public be convinced that this war is strictly limited to the stalwart Ukrainian people defending their democracy, against all odds, from the latest incarnation of Hitler. 

And by the millions, we are swiftly getting with the Unity Program. For when it comes to defending and expanding the US hegemon and enriching our own domestic oligarchs, there is no Republican Party, and there is no Democratic Party. There is only the one, true, all-American Party of Blob. You can't really call it the Deep State any more, given that the partying parties of the Hegemon no longer bother to hide what they do.  As long as the American people can get most or even all their news from only five or six corporate entities which insist, over and over and over again, that they are the only thing standing between you and an evil pandemic of disinformation and misinformation and even "mal-information" infecting the Internet, then the battle for your hearts and minds to support the proxy war on Russia is as good as won.

It helps, too, that the country chosen as the battleground for this latest war is populated by white people, and that its president is such an entertaining and telegenic former comic actor. It's so much easier to get Western celebrities and other professional concern trolls to "stand with" beleaguered people who are not brown and poor and Muslim. You will never, for example, see the Saturday Night Live cold opening of their latest show with a hymn for the Somalis or Yemenis being blasted to smithereens by US drones. 

You just know it's springtime for wartime whenever the establishment media subsidiary of the Blob joins together in a rare spirit of elite solidarity, putting aside all their petty partisan allegiances in the quest to engage eyeballs and ear-holes in united hatred for a common enemy. The domestic culture wars miraculously have taken a back seat in the past week in order to saturate us with lockstep coverage by outlets blaring the same scare headlines and the same war footage, which may or may not emanate from any actual scenes of battles in Ukraine. You can no longer see any difference between the deep black scare headlines of the right-wing New York Post and the "center-left" New York Times.

For just one example of the bipartisanship of this propaganda war for land, for fossil fuels, for sheer Superpower power, see the latest Times column of Michelle Goldberg. This liberal opinion writer, whose subject matter usually involves pumping up Democrats and dissing Republicans, today glowingly cited a poll commissioned by a corrupt, money-soaked GOP-controlled propaganda mill, purporting to show that most Ukrainian citizens are convinced that "they" can defeat Russia. Goldberg doesn't mention the Republican provenance of the survey, however. She does not reveal that this Ukrainian polling agency gets its commissions from the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Washington, which in turn gets its own money from the multibillion-dollar US Agency for International Development, the State Department, and donations from such entities as the government of Canada, the Bush Institute, the AFL-CIO, the American Bar Association and a whole panoply of NGOs and foundations and think tanks. Therefore, liberal-minded Times readers of Goldberg's column never get to find out that there is a direct propaganda line to the Ukrainian pollster straight from the IRI Board, which consists mainly of hawkish GOP senators currently sitting on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The IRI got its start during the Reagan years, and has a long sordid history of fomenting and orchestrating regime change coups and wars throughout the world, under the usual rubric of human rights, a free press and the general all-purpose spreading of democracy for the enrichment of the military-industrial complex. It has employed the notorious Blackwater/XE  security firm to guard both its headquarters and its personnel.

Goldberg also doesn't reveal in her column that the heroic newspaper editor-philosopher hawking the IRI's poll results, the man she placed at the very center of her column, is also on the payroll of USAID, as well as of NATO. Of course, his publication is aimed more at war-weary English-speakers in the West, rather than at the people who actually live in Ukraine, the people who are actually caught in the middle of the proxy war between Russia and the United States and its NATO clients and could use some reliable news to help them in their immediate existential plight.

In 2019, Michelle Goldberg recounts, when she last visited Ukraine to explore the zeitgeist of these everyday citizens, she interviewed this very same publisher, Volodymyr Yermenko of UkraineWorld. The subject that time around was not so much the alleged desire of Ukrainians to join NATO and effect regime change in Russia  as it was to sell the narrative to Times readers that everyday Ukrainians were disgusted that Donald Trump and the right-wing Republicans were falsely accusing their government of corruption. Again, the American public needed to be convinced that since the rest of the world was in danger from Trump, it is up to us to defeat Trump and thereby save the rest of the world. (for, I reckon, the preferred set of oligarchs funding the IRI and its donors and subsidiaries). Engendering worldwide anti-Trump feeling was at that time a primary task of the #Russiagate franchise. No matter that Trump, despite being an embarrassing vocal critic of NATO and an unabashed admirer of authoritarian strongmen, did end up bowing to Blob pressure and sending financial aid to Ukraine, not to mention trashing a nuclear treaty with Russia. Putin, who is now being portrayed as off his rocker, has taken to openly threatening to use nukes. (Thanks a lot, Donald!)

Adding to the tangled webs being woven by the mainstream media, IRI board member Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is adamantly refusing to respond to liberal media goading and patriotically "condemn" Trump for praising Putin at the very same time that he and his neocon cohort are commissioning anti-Russia pro-"democracy" propaganda in service to the profiteers of the proxy war.

Surprisingly, the Times published my comment to Goldberg which, in truncated form, outlined the sleazy provenance of both the commissioned poll she cited as well as her Ukrainian publishing source's own direct funding by the US hegemon. My comment was greeted with the equivalent of a group yawn, and two recommendations from fellow readers. One person did respond with the retort, "So what! Frankly, our side needs effective propaganda right now. It goes along with fighting wars; in this one, our propaganda effort is essential in getting the publics of the democracies to get behind the effort to both isolate the Russian Republic, and to keep up the supply of war materials to the Ukranians (sic), neither of which will be free of risks, and especially for our European allies, of significant costs, economically speaking. So if the vast right-wing conspiracy wants to devote some of their talents and treasure to these goals, more power to them, I say..."


Meantime, let's all stay tuned for tonight's State of the Onion address by Joe Biden. Or not. I'll cover it here either tomorrow or the next day.... that is, if I haven't choked on my popcorn.