Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Cheats and Tweets (and Cheetos)

To mangle T.S. Eliot, this is the way the world ends, folks - not with the bang of nuclear World War III, but with the whimper of a tweet.  Elon Musk, the world's richest billionaire whose very name exudes rank ferality, just bought Twitter and is taking it private.

The corporate media monolith and of course the Twitterverse itself are in a veritable frenzy of belching out What This All Means. If you look on the bright side of things, Musk promises that the algorithm, which now favors some users over others, will become open-source. The methods of our manipulation will be visible to one and all. The Musk oil salesman will teach us to embrace the new freedom of our servitude. Dissidents will no longer be banned or censored.... unless, of course, they reside in either the Ten Percent Far Right or the Ten Percent Far Left, which shall be defined by Elon Musk himself so as to conduct censorship in the most libertarian and transparent way possible.

And if, as diehard users fear, Twitter devolves from its current high-minded civility into such a free-for-all Babel that nobody can even hear himself Tweet, shouldn't we view it as a respite rather than a tragedy? This is especially true if it is deemed unusable and/or untouchable by the ruling class influencers and scolders who currently manufacture and control the "discourse" and the "narrative." Or, Elon Musk could suddenly become bored and shut the whole enterprise down on a whim, but in such an ironclad patented legal way that nobody else can ever revive it in any form whatsoever.

Alternatively, if the ruling class twitterati find themselves simply unable to quit Twitter, they at least might finally be spurred to follow through on their heretofore flimsy threats to hold it, and all the remaining social media giants, legally accountable for the material they allow to be published on their platforms. The elites might even become so desperate that they seize the companies altogether and place them in the public domain, just like our other for-profit public utllities, such as life-sustaining water.

Elon Musk may own the world, but as a person born outside of these United States of non-Usian parents, he at least can never buy the actual presidency - notwithstanding the fact that he and his oligarchic cohort effectively own the government - otherwise known as privatized profit at socialized cost. 

As you may have gathered by now, I don't care one whit about Twitter and its future. I did mindlessly sign up for it when it first appeared, but I abysmally failed at tweeting out even one single tweet. 

If Twitter disappears, as I sincerely hope that it does, journalists will actually have to write articles whose paragraphs are separated by plain indentations instead of those ubiquitous, supposedly pithy Tweets or at minimum, numerous links to Tweets themselves. Following these links only requires me to register in order to read them. And life is way too short as it is, especially with Hitler Putin threatening to nuke us or at least mess with our power grid, at which time the existential angst of whether to tweet or not to tweet while obsessing over followers and ratios will be rendered absolutely moot.

In other news, Big Oil is paradoxically balking at Joe Biden's kind offer to drill baby drill the whole world into extinction. The reason? The oil companies are afraid they won't be able to keep fuel prices high and their profits higher if they extract too much.  Or as the New York Times explains it, 

The biggest reason oil production isn’t increasing is that U.S. energy companies and Wall Street investors are not sure that oil prices will stay high long enough for them to make a profit from drilling lots of new wells. Many remember how abruptly and sharply oil prices crashed two years ago, forcing companies to lay off thousands of employees, shut down wells and even seek bankruptcy protection.

Who knew that greed had its upside as far as the environment is concerned? Perhaps our lawmakers can stop subsidizing these companies and the courts can stop offering them bankruptcy protection even as they pocket their windfall profits from price-gouging during times of war and plague.

One more bit of good-bad news before I go. PepsiCo, which  owns the Frito-Lay division of junk food as well as its diabetes-causing sugary sodas, reports that its own profits have risen only modestly, those rises being due solely to the obscene price increases it has recently plopped on its products. In other words, if they hadn't raised the price of Cheetos and Lays potato chips so drastically, then they would be in the hole. Or, to put in Timesplaining-speak:

Like other food and beverage companies, PepsiCo is walking a fine line, determining how much it can raise prices on its key products before consumers balk and either buy less or seek out cheaper substitutes. Still, acknowledging that consumers are facing higher prices in all aspects of their lives, executives said they would be watching behaviors closely as they weigh further price increases for the year.

So that makes me wonder whether the real reason that Netflix is losing so many subscribers is that the high cost of noshing while watching has forced people to make the hard choice to just give up the watching, which is much less addictive than sugar and salt. And pretty soon they won't be able to afford the noshing either. Cheetos already are threatening to become a delicacy affordable only by the board members of Exxon-Mobil, Twitter, Netflix and PepsiCo itself.

And with the prospect of losing access to Twitter for lack of the bitcoin price that Elon Musk is said to intend charging for the service, without the gas to drive their cars to the grocery store to buy the Cheetos, without the cash to pay to watch Netflix cake-baking shows, without, perhaps, even the electricity to plug our devices in to achieve blissful forgetfulness  this overreach by the voracious class of capitalist greedsters might be just the thing that we need to survive as a species... if, of course, they don't kill us, their hosts, first with their own addiction to endless war.

"Hey You, Get Under My Bus" - photo by Kat Garcia

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Let 'Er R.I.P.

 The Biden administration on Monday ceded what little public health authority that it had still chosen to wield to a Trump judicial appointee - and a grossly unqualified appointee at that. The White House couldn't even wait until the ink was dry on her decision or before airline passengers had safely landed on the ground before declaring that mandatory masking in mass transport was at an end.

Pilots hastened to congratulate their passengers at 35,000 feet for finally achieving their long-sought freedom to spread their germs to the vulnerable person or the unvaccinated baby sitting next to them. Death and taxes may be inevitable - especially on Tax Day Monday - but masks shall never be!

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki bluntly announced that the TSA (Transportation Security Agency) would ignore the pre-existing Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order to continue the mandate at least until next month. This is despite a 47 percent increase in new Covid cases nationwide reported in the last week. (The increase is likely a gross understatement, given that the government no longer tests, tracks or even treats Covid patients, especially when they are poor and uninsured.)

The beleaguered TSA at long last will be able to return to its core mission: groping and scanning passengers for the prevention of in-flight terrorism, and checking their shoes for bombs and ammo.

Meanwhile, to enhance the magical thinking magic of the No More Masks Day decision, the Easter Bunny himself crashed Psaki's press briefing, fresh from his rolling exercise on the White House Lawn. The fairy tale actually had begun quite early in the day, when Bunny prevented Biden from talking to the assembled media with just one swipe of his big furry paw.

Just when you thought the day couldn't get any more phantasmagorical, Senator Elizabeth Warren mendaciously announced in a New York Times op-ed that "Democrats are the party of working people."

But clinging tenaciously to a vestige of reality nevertheless, Warren did quickly admit that her lead sentence was just more of the same old gaslighting rhetoric:

Ahead of the 2020 election, we advanced ideas and plans that we believed would, in ways big and small, make our democracy and our economy work better for all Americans. Across this country, voters agreed with us — and gave us a majority in Washington so that we could deliver on those promises.


Warren then proceeds to follow the same old Democratic recipe: blame the Republicans, blame the Republicans and then blame the Republicans some more. But if they are to prevent a bloodbath in the November midterms, Dems have to go beyond better messaging. They have to work overtime to "convince voters that we can deliver meaningful change" in other ways than simply bashing Republicans (not to mention  beating them at their own nihilistic game by allowing a hack Trump judge to make public health policy.)

Deliverance, virtue-signaling Democratic-style, versus deliverance backwoods Dickey novel Republican-style, in Warren's world would entail abolishing the filibuster and thereby forcing the inbred congress-critters to vote in full public view - as if bellowing out ignorance and hatred in public is not a good and positive thing for their own electoral prospects.

Oh, and the corruption! Warren does deserve a little credit for taking a baby bunny-sized swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her vast enrichment courtesy of decades of insider trading. But Warren is also careful not to mention Pelosi by her actual name. And she is also careful to mildly suggest that Biden cancel some student debt by executive order. However, in narrowly framing her proposal in identity politics, around the benefits that would  accrue to women and racial groups rather than to all debtors of all classes, genders and ethnicities, she passive-aggressively instigates more of the same divide-and-conquer culture war resentments that she just accused the Republicans of fomenting.

She uttered not one word in favor of this country's burgeoning bottom-up labor movement and Amazon unionization when she criticized Jeff Bezos and Amazon. For someone who claims that the Democrats are "the party of working people," her emphasis on simply taxing billionaires and corporations - without a parallel call to then redistribute the wealth by way of public benefits, such as guaranteed free universal health care for all people - falls flat. 

She supplements her strict, party-line casting of blame for all manner of domestic misery on the GOP and Putin and the interruption of the supply chain with a brief nod to the "political consultant class" and its messaging trope as a substitute for concrete action. She has not a word to say about Biden's recent order allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands.

It is certainly no accident that besides the Times giving Elizabeth Warren column space, its resident pundit Maureen Dowd did her part over the weekend by taking the  previously maligned Bernie Sanders out of mothballs and freshening up his wispy white fur for purposes of sheep-dogging more disgruntled voters to Get Out There and Vote for Democrats in November to forestall the umpteenth apocalypse. As far as I know, Maureen Dowd is not related to the delusional Elwood Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart in Harvey, which is the name of his jumbo invisible rabbit friend. Feel the Bern, believe in the Bern and vote for the corporate Dems! Hear it often enough, and you, just like Elwood's friends and family, will also start to believe in imaginary bunnies, especially the genuine ones wearing oversized mittens.

 Never mind that the Democrats themselves are courting Armageddon with a vengeance, cheerleading the US proxy war against Russia, a nuclear power. Democratic Senator Chris Coons was just the latest hack to call for US troops on the ground in Ukraine when he appeared on a weapons manufacturer-sponsored "news"  show  on Easter Sunday.

But back to the New York Times. The controlling Sulzbergers just named Joseph F. Kahn to replace executive editor Dean Baquet, who is being forced to step down at the age of 65 solely because of family "tradition." 

The new chief's biography reads like a parody of the elite meritocracy: Harvard-educated scion of a big box store empire, brief stint at the Dallas Morning News before becoming bored by "local" news and deciding to return to Harvard and "pivot to China," as an independently funded student and journalist, a series of quick professional promotions, marriage to a former World Bank official.

From the Times puff piece announcing Kahn's appointment:

After returning to New York in 2008 as an editor, Mr. Kahn helped launch The Times’s Chinese-language website in 2011, a multimillion-dollar investment at a time of financial scarcity for the company. About six months later, Mr. Kahn was part of the team of editors who decided to publish an investigation into the hidden wealth of China’s ruling class, over the strident objections of the Chinese government....

Mr. Kahn will be taking charge of The Times when many Americans distrust mainstream sources of news, and disinformation tactics are growing increasingly sophisticated. In the interview, he acknowledged that his experience with Chinese officials, well versed in propaganda and deception, was newly relevant.

“I would not have thought,” Mr. Kahn said, “that being a foreign correspondent in China would be good preparation to be executive editor of The New York Times in 2022.”

I don't know whether to interpret that statement as Kahn championing freedom of the press in a repressive regime, or Kahn bragging that he learned censorship techniques from the best of the best.

Judging from the Paper of Record's ongoing devotion to quoting unnamed senior officials promoting US wars of hegemony, with little to no outside dissent, I would have to guess the latter. That the war is drowning out pandemic news on the front pages and in the lead stories of virtually all corporate media in the United States, I would definitely have to guess the latter.

Not that Covid coverage is not continuing. Star Times economics columnist David Leonhardt, for example, continues to scoff at the faint-hearted and pretends, day after day, that there are no poor or uninsured or chronically sick people living in the Land of the Free. Pay no attention to those "big screaming headlines" announcing that Covid is still very much with us. After all, if 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi gets it and is "just fine," then you will be just fine too.

He doesn't seem to realize that in such a wildly unequal country, there is Elite Covid, and then there is Proletarian Covid for everyone else. Leonhardt actually seems to think that since rich people with unlimited financial and medical resources are able to recover, then so should everybody else, even without paid time off, household help, reliable transportation and a bank balance. His basic metric is that there are fewer hospitalizations for the virus than there were at the start of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines. He conveniently ignores the fact that there are also many fewer hospitals serving poor and rural areas in the United States. But nevertheless, he persists:

Going forward, this newsletter will begin to pay less attention to statistics on coronavirus cases and more attention to statistics on hospitalizations. “Looking at the data in the same way we’ve been accustomed over the past two years can be misleading,” Spencer (a cherry picked epidemiologist) said.

We won’t completely ignore the case numbers, because they still have some relevance. But the cases data has become both less reliable and less meaningful than earlier in the pandemic.

In other words:

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Monday, April 11, 2022

All They Are Saying Is "Give War a Chance!"

 This video is guaranteed to depress the hell out you and/or scare you to death. It also, hopefully, will spur you on to even greater anger at the reckless ruling class racketeers known as the foreign policy Blob. They're an incestuous clan of careerist Republicans and Democrats and their wealthy donors, the permanent security state, the  corporate media, and Hollywood. Their de facto motto in the United States' ongoing proxy war against Russia is "We're all neocons now!"

The program features The Nation editor Katrina van den Heuvel, foreign policy critic and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, ,and Jack Matlock, the ambassador to the former Soviet Union in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. 

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Fog of War, Brain Fog of Warmongers

I guess we could look on the bright side of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Covid diagnosis this week. She will be forced to postpone her provocative trip to Taiwan, which is the next apparent site of the US hegemon's "bait and bleed" operation to stop their global competitors (Russia and China, for now) right in their economic tracks by goading them into wars against their weaker neighbors.  Even the risk of nuclear war is not preventing the American gerontocracy from trying to maintain their increasingly tenuous status as Sole Remaining Superpower.

Of course, the really bad news about Pelosi's diagnosis is that even though she smugly boasts of having the emerging elite strain of the disease (she feels great because she is uber-boosted!), research clearly shows that she still is at risk for the brain fog and other sequelae in Long Covid. And since, at 82 years of age, her increasingly incoherent speech patterns might also be indicative of mental decline, the prospect of a post-Covid Pelosi traveling the globe seems especially dangerous.

It's not as though she and her cohort were not already certifiably insane. Their seemingly deliberate ploys to infect their unmasked selves at various self-congratulatory galas in the past week, and then to tweet out cheery messages of how well they're feeling and how noble they're being by isolating themselves, comprise an obvious public relations gimmick to goad the rest of us into following suit. Never mind that the elites get paid when they're out sick and have the insurance and unlimited tests and medications and wait-staff to make it all so tolerable and brag-worthy.

 The exquisite irony of them even cavalierly exposing themselves to the disease at a White House celebration of the Affordable Care Act should especially not be lost on us.

As PBS approvingly gushed,

Obama returns to the White House on Tuesday for a moment he can savor. His signature Affordable Care Act is now part of the fabric of the American health care system, and President Joe Biden is looking to extend its reach. Sign-ups under the health law have increased under Biden’s stewardship, and more generous taxpayer subsidies have cut costs for enrollees, albeit temporarily.

Didn't anybody ever tell them that stretching delicate fabric will decrease its life expectancy, if not completely ruin it?

This latest bit of White House theater is downright cruel, given that Congress has yet to renew free Covid testing and treatment for the tens of millions of uninsured citizens - the disproportionately black, brown and poor people who already were disproportionately dying from the disease - and they've agreed among themselves not to renew Covid relief for the rest of the war-torn and climate change-torn world. They seem to think there's an invisible barrier protecting the Homeland from non-American virus particles, which must be absolutely thrilled that they're being allowed to keep thriving and mutating and sneaking past Border Patrol.

For as Shakespeare observed in Hamlet,

“I do repent; but heaven hath pleas’d it so

To punish me with this, and this with me,

That I must be their scourge and minister.

I will bestow him, and will answer well

The death I gave him. So again good night

I must be cruel only to be kind.

Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”

To divert us from the crass ingratitude that we might be feeling during these times of financial distress, meanwhile, we are supposed to cheer for the bipartisan confirmation of the first female black Supreme Court justice, revel in Congress's heroic federal criminalization of lynching, and celebrate Joe Biden's historic proclamation of the Transgender Day of Visibility. None of this political theater will do a damn thing to make people's lives better. In fact, the sheer insanity of the ruling elite will make our lives exponentially worse with every passing, cynical gesture. 

Another example of cynical kindness is Biden's extension of the student loan moratorium only through September, when he has it in his power to declare a full-scale debt jubilee and permanently forgive the loans. However, since the elites declare that such a jubilee would also unfairly reward the subset of well-educated debtors making a decent salary, they scold that permanent forgiveness would be a slap in the face to other struggling workers. Cruelty is thus conveniently redefined as kindness to the "deserving" - while the only true winners are the rent-seeking, debt-free oligarchs.

 Cruel kindness/kind cruelty  can be taken away at any moment, making the month-to-month brand of relief arguably more stressful for the desperate than a complete cutoff of help would be.

And then there is the temporary increase in SNAP (food stamp) benefits, extended last year under the Families First Act. In order for recipients to qualify for a second monthly federal stipend of as much as several hundred dollars depending on family size, each state must make a monthly application for a "flexibility" waiver from the Department of Agriculture. This availability applies only for as long as federal and state public health emergencies are continued. Not knowing from one month to the next whether or not the supplemental grant to buy increasingly costly groceries will be forthcoming makes it difficult for families to budget from one month to the next. North Carolina just became the first state to officially cut off the supplemental SNAP benefits to recipients in that state, just at a time when food prices are rising so drastically.

This week's orchestrated super-spreader event to mark Obamacare - complete with the Great Man himself deigning to show up to "savor the moment" as if it was foie gras sadistically whipped up from the livers of tortured geese - would not have been complete without another adorable Joe Biden gaffe. This is what he tweeted out to celebrate a tiny revision of the law, which allows previously excluded family members with pre-existing conditions to begin purchasing insurance product next year - provided, of course, that they have the financial means to do so.

In America, health care should be a right — not a privilege.

The fact-checked, corrected version:

In America, health care is a right only for the privileged. 


Foie Gras For Me. Expiring Cheez Whiz For Thee