Sunday, July 31, 2022

A Theory of the Covid-Exhausted Leisure Class

 Mere days before a leak of a Bank of America memo calling for more bad times and fewer jobs for Americans, President Joe Biden groveled before this same megabank's CEO, thanking him for accepting his phone calls and seeking his wisdom on the financial health of "his consumers."

"It's good to see you recovering, Mr. President," Brian Moynihan gushed in return, less than two days before a maskless Biden suffered a Covid relapse and had to return to isolated splendor.

Moynihan was one of the few tycoons speaking at the Thursday White House confab who were wise enough to appear remotely, so as to protect themselves from Biden's lurking microbes, while selling the New Normal of forcing people back to in-person work if they want to keep their jobs.

Notice how narrowly Biden restricted the conversation to bank customers, rather than to the financial well-being of everybody - especially the nation's older citizens, who are still getting seriously ill and dying from Covid in disproportionate numbers.. A new study by the UMass Gerontology Institute reveals that at least half of the American seniors living alone are so badly off that they can no longer afford even the basic necessities of life. One-fourth of married retirees also report having trouble paying for even the barest essentials. 

But rule by a gerontocracy controlled by an oligarchy does not mean that geriatric problems register even a blip on their radar.

To the contrary: it soon became apparent at the plutocratic bull session that the only financial needs to be discussed in the White House that day are of those making at least $100,000 a year,

Moynihan explained:

 "At Bank of America, we have, you know, 60 million consumers and 35 million Core Checking accounts for Americans. 
Number one, they’re spending more money.  Through the first 25 days of July 2022, they have spent 10 percent more than they spent in July of 2021, the first 25 days.  And that’s consistent with what we saw in the whole second quarter in earlier this year. The second key point I’d say, Mr. President, is their balances are much higher than they were in the pandemic.  

And so, if you look at people of, sort of, $100,000-income families in our client base, you’ll see that their balances go from three to five to seven times more than they were in the pandemic. 

 The problem for these beleaguered, flush-with-cash people, he added, is not only how to spend all that excess money, but how to be approvingly noticed while doing so. What fun is isolated splendor? What good is money and bling and merch if you cannot also revel in experiences outside of the four walls of your castle?

Now, just because Moynihan had enough smarts to not expose himself to the sick president does not mean that he can't garble his own words every bit as incoherently as the sick president himself. The banker continued,

They bought everything they could — they bought a lot of stuff when they were cooped up at home; they’re now out traveling and experiencing the world due to vaccines and — and the condition of the COVID pandemic.

You have to not only conspicuously consume, you also have to  conspicuously experience the world due to vaccines and the condition of the pandemic, which itself remains deliberately murky because capitalists like him have decreed that cases are no longer counted by the government in any systematic, science-based way. He would have us accept the notion that "the condition of the COVID pandemic" is that notwithstanding the evidence, it has been decreed, out of capitalist necessity,  to be over. He tries to divert attention away from the windfall profits enjoyed by the oligarchs since the pandemic began by pointing to an alleged seven-fold increase in bank deposits of his customers. He is buying into the canard that it was government largesse that made ordinary people suddenly so rich and that it is not corporate greed, but ordinary people, who have contributed to inflation.

 It was the airline industry, remember - not groveling government officials -  which effectively decreed to the CDC this spring that in the interest of profits for the few,  the isolation period of Covid patients must be reduced from 10 days to a meager five.

(CDC is the acronym for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its actual function right now might as well be the Centers for the Prevention of Disease Control. Or, given that oligarchs have enjoyed windfall profits during Covid, maybe even Centers for the Rapacious  Accumulation of Possessions - CRAP).

And that's where Tony Capuano, head honcho of the Marriott hotel chain, came in. Unlike Moynihan, he did not have the wisdom to physically stay away from the "recovered" president; he breathed the very same stale but rarefied air as Joe Biden. There is as of yet no word whether the hotel magnate has contracted the virus as a result of the administration's "let 'er rip" policy.

Capuano's words of wisdom: 

"Well, thank you, Mr. President, for the invitation today.  I think what we’ve learned over the last couple quarters is really the resilience of travel.  And when we look at our forward-booking data, we see real evidence of that resilience."  

 Capuano fulsomely praised the intrepid pioneers of the traveling and "experiencing" class for possessing such wonderful resilience to go along with all that surplus cash. 

It was social scientist Thorstein Veblen who observed more than a century ago, during the first Gilded Age, that it's not enough to be rich in isolation. In order for wealth to have meaning, it must be tastefully flaunted in public, spreading the message to the hoi polloi that wealth is a virtue and a mark of its possessors' good character. This nostrum is precisely why wealthy liberals are so averse to Donald Trump's crude tastelessness, from his outer-Borough speech patterns to, most recently, the gold-plated coffin for his first ex-wife, whose final resting place is a tax dodge of a cemetery plot at his New Jersey golf club. His fellow oligarchs are just fine with his actual policies, including a huge war budget and tax breaks for the wealthy, to name just two.

So in the modern version, for the pandemic-exhausted leisure class, "resilience" is a virtue to be both admired and emulated by the less fortunate. The courage to get out there and insanely but politely thumb your nose at a pestilential catastrophe is the new positive marker of moral character, a trait that we should all aspire to.

The not-so-subliminal message broadcast at last week's White House confab is that if the resilient wealthy can ignore the pandemic with such courage and fortitude, then so should the rest of us. Even if we're barely making it, we can learn to cope. Not so much to experience virtuous leisure - because that ranking connotes that the wealth was earned honestly and was not at all predatory - but to return to virtuous work in person....  preferably at lower wages, of course.

The Bank of America memo, written by one of the financial behemoth's economists, calls for increasing unemployment so as to depress wages  that, while rising somewhat in some niches, can still be considered stagnant. As The Intercept reported, 

The memo expresses distress about “a record tight labor market,” stating that “wage pressures are … going to be hard to reverse. While there may have been some one-off increases in some pockets of the labor market, the upward pressure extends to virtually every industry, income and skill level.

Therefore, the  BOA's CEO bragging to Biden about his customers having as much as seven times the money in their accounts that they did in the pandemic's early days was disingenuous at best, and a warning that the merely well-off are making too much money and got too much government aid at worst. For as hard as it may be to fathom, an estimated one-third of workers who make six-figure salaries actually do live paycheck to paycheck. The cost of living is getting crazy out there, when in some areas even $100,000 doesn't cover rent, gas, clothing and other bills. It's hard out there for the bourgeoisie, whether they be at the petit end or upper end of the top 10 or 20 or 30 percent.

Joe Biden's own crass political message is that the true underclass and the truly needy and  especially the struggling elderly will continue to be ignored on his watch.  This is especially cruel, for as the New York Times reported this past spring, 

Covid deaths, though always concentrated in older people, have in 2022 skewed toward older people more than they did at any point since vaccines became widely available.

That swing in the pandemic has intensified pressure on the Biden administration to protect older Americans, with health officials in recent weeks encouraging everyone 50 and older to get a second booster and introducing new models of distributing antiviral pills.

In much of the country, though, the booster campaign remains listless and disorganized, older people and their doctors said. Patients, many of whom struggle to drive or get online, have to maneuver through an often labyrinthine health care system to receive potentially lifesaving antivirals.

As a senior citizen himself, Biden has not let us forget that at age 79, even with the virus, he is still working hard every single day. Even when he's sick, he feels great, and so should you. He is only in isolation so that other hard-working patriotic "folks" won't also get sick. I don't know about you, but with this kind of neoliberal rhetoric I can absolutely see cuts to Social Security and Medicare looming on the horizon, even as the old "folks" are sickening and dying in such record numbers that the trust funds that we pay into all our working lives are undoubtedly a bit more solvent than they were before the pandemic.

Rather than give more help to struggling people who don't even have the money to get to a free vaccination site, our government tries to force them out of sight and out of mind.

So back to Tony Capuano, the hospitality industry tycoon, who recently bragged on TV that the much higher prices he is charging for his hotel rooms are "sustainable." Whether this is because the globe-trotting Leisure Class is so "resilient" was not mentioned. He did tell Joe Biden that were it not for Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reversing the requirement that all incoming foreign travelers must show proof of vaccination, his coffers would not be so nearly full-to-bursting as they are now. Or, as he finessed his own word salad in the brave new spirit of Universal Leisure Class Resiliency,

"And then when we look on a global basis, the continued opening of borders, the easing of restrictions that restricted travel is having a massive impact on our global business."

Biden himself couldn't seem to stop fixating on the alleged trials and tribulations of the $100,000-plus crowd. He garbled hoarsely,

"One of the things that I find is — I look at and I take it very seriously the confidence level of the American people in the economy.  And they’re so down and they’re looking — there’s reason to be down, but I started thinking about it.  And, Brian, (he of the Bank of America) you and I talked about it just a little bit.

You know, the first year, we were able to, with the — with the Rescue Plan, we were able to send them a check for eight grand.  I mean, a check.  One — and beyond that, by the way; there was more than that.....But when you’re mak- — if you’re making 120 grand and you get a check for 8 grand, that’s a lot of money.  And so it helped save a lot of people, in terms of getting thrown out of their homes and rental housing and a whole range of things."

I don't know anybody who got a check for 8 grand, do you? Biden sent everybody $1400 after promising us two grand, because the evil Donald Trump had beat him to the punch and managed to send out an additional $600 before his first term expired. Some people have speculated that the rescue plan's direct cash aid for children might have caused Biden's brain to create its own magic 8-ball. And anyway, since this cash aid for kids was means-tested and limited to parents making below $75,000, it seems doubtful that his fantasy version of the Down and Outs got any of it.

Biden seems also  to have formed a muddled brain-picture of hordes of Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) denizens being evicted en masse from their McMansions and their luxury condos. And with the price of gas to fill their guzzling SUVs so high, and the long wait for $40,000 battery-powered cars and the dearth of charging stations, is it any wonder that Biden's folks are feeling so stressed out?

I'm curious about just how many people making those paltry low six figures ended up being evicted from their apartments. In yet another sign that Biden doesn't give a fig about truly poor people, the issue of affordable or government-subsidized housing, as well as the need for rent control laws to rein in greedy corporate landlords, was never as much as whispered about at the White House meeting. 

If you aren't solidly middle class or upper middle class, then you might as well not even exist as far as these captains of industry and their political henchmen are concerned.

Perhaps the worst part is that the meeting itself became so boring that, according to the official transcript, the White House press corps "exited" en masse before the bigwigs and various assorted government fawners even got finished garbling amongst themselves. 

Or maybe "exit" is just Leisure Class-speak for getting kicked out so that the thought leaders could freely talk about that secret Bank of America memo and discuss how to better punish the bottom 70 or 80 percent of us who irresponsibly lack the cash just to subsist, let alone wallow in our own resilient world-experiences.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Why the Armed US Hegemon Hates Reproductive Freedom

 I joked in my last post that with the way things are going for Joe Biden, his approval rating is going to plummet down to One Percent.

And lo and behold, a few days later a new poll revealed that only one percent of 18 to 29-year-olds "strongly approve" of the job that Joe Biden is doing.  The establishment media are pointing to the dreaded "generation gap," with which they have traditionally explained away all manner of social discontents. The revolt of the young was particularly strong during the 1960s, with uprisings against the military draft and and a parallel clamoring for civil rights and racial justice. Then came the 70s and the right-wing counter-revolution and the lords of finance capital co-opting all the turmoil by dividing the working class, destroying unions and making "personal responsibility" the core dogma of their neoliberal agenda. The protesters of the 60s were replaced by the debt slaves and minimum wage earners of today.

But then came Covid, and the overturning of Roe v Wade, and the pendulum may finally be swinging back into the civil revolt phase. The media-political complex is paying the usual condescending lip service to the young and discontented, acknowledging that there is an atherosclerotic gerontocracy running the place.  For its own part, the clueless White House was only too happy to prove the theory that the old codgers really do have it out for all of us, sniffing that "activists have consistently been out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party."

As if that were a bad thing, given that the party's "main stream" has become so clogged with the raw sewage of neo-McCarthyism in the service of corporatism that the law of physics all but demands that new renegade rivulets develop and set their own courses. 

And this much is obvious: the gerontocrats, as much as they despise the dissatisfied young, need to keep feasting on their blood. If you want to know the core reason that the Democratic leadership has been so remiss in codifying Roe vs Wade and taking on the reactionary Supreme Court, then look no further than the plummeting US birthrate.  The Supremes are the Democratic establishment's secret best friends.

Since there are simply not enough young bodies around any more to fight in their endless wars for corporate profit and global dominance, the right of non-elite women to guaranteed birth control and abortion is, effectively, anathema to the ruling class and their world order. And this latest "NATO" war against Russia, possibly expanding to China and beyond, is projected to last for decades. Boots on the ground will be desperately needed, decade after decade. The reproductive supply chain must not be interrupted at this fraught point in time.

But since they can't come right out and say so without looking like the sociopaths that they are, they foist the blame on today's young people for being  too dumb, too greedy, too thuggish and too fat to fight and kill for them.

Or as the New York Times more delicately headlines the distressing cannon fodder shortage: "With Few Able and Fewer Willing, US Military Can't Find Recruits:

These are tough times for military recruiting. Almost across the board, the armed forces are experiencing large shortfalls in enlistments this year — a deficit of thousands of entry-level troops that is on pace to be worse than any since just after the Vietnam War. It threatens to throw a wrench into the military’s machinery, leaving critical jobs unfilled and some platoons with too few people to function.

Covid-19 is part of the problem. Lockdowns during the pandemic have limited recruiters’ ability to forge bonds face to face with prospects. And the military’s vaccine mandate has kept some would-be troops away.

The horror. 

Not only is America's potential weaponized flesh ignorant about The Science of vaccines, they're ungrateful money-hungry little wretches who are more interested in getting rich off all the great high-paying service jobs out there than they are in dying for The Homeland. In Timespeak:

The current white-hot labor market, with many more jobs available than people to fill them, is also a factor, as rising civilian wages and benefits make military service less enticing.

If they're not greedy, then kids today are so criminally depraved and/or obese that the desperate US military is forced to reject them when they do apply.  According to the Times, fully three-quarters of military applicants have some sort of criminal record, or are physically unfit.

The paper does not delve into why this is so, never factoring in the hopelessness of those who have never known any reality but the iron heel of capitalism, with no positive government investment or intervention in their lives since the day they were born.

But the bipartisan heirs of Ronald Reagan and his neoliberal baby-mama Margaret Thatcher are all too cynically willing to bribe these needy people with bonuses if they join the cause of imperialism:

To try to counter those forces, the military has pushed enlistment bonuses as high as $50,000, and is offering “quick ship” cash of up to $10,000 for certain recruits who can leave for basic training in 30 days. To broaden the recruiting pool, the service branches have loosened their restrictions on neck tattoos and other standards. In June, the Army even briefly dropped its requirement for a high school diploma, before deciding that was a bad move and rescinding the change.

The best part of our free public education system for the military-industrial complex, in fact, is that armed forces recruiters (more lately augmented by domestic police patrols) have long been ubiquitous in American high schools. I remember getting relentless calls from all four branches of the military asking for my son and daughter, whose names and phone number they had acquired from school administrators, whose federal funding was contingent upon their cooperation. Nothing we said ever discouraged these recruiters from calling us over and over again, over a period of several years. When my son told one caller that he didn't want to kill people in a war, the recruiter outright lied and said he would never have to, dangling before him instead the prospect of easy big money, job training and subsidized education - in effect, making a cynical appeal to his nascent avarice.

The Times article at least did honestly describe US high schools as "the military's most productive hunting grounds," while not exploring the possible connection between the increased number of school shootings and the preoccupation of certain young American males with military assault rifles and accessories like camo vests and body armor.

Unfortunately, as one Air Force major general, Edward Thomas Jr,  complained to the newspaper,  

. The relationships that recruiters were not able to cultivate face to face during the pandemic’s early stages, he said, mean there is now a drought of graduates signing on the dotted line.

Oh no, not another drought! It's as bad as the nerve of the vast majority of American young folks for not approving the job performance of Commander-in-Chief Joe Biden. It's just terrible when a drought of weaponized bodies combines with Roe vs Wade activists who refuse to swim with the sharks in Democratic mainstream! Especially when the Powers That Be unhelpfully describe the worsening Covid pandemic as only a "short-term problem."

The Times article continues,

And what the military calls propensity — the share of young adults who would consider serving — has fallen steadily for several years. It stood at 13 percent before the pandemic began, General Thomas said, but is now 9 percent.

“There are just lower levels of trust with the U.S. government and the military,” he said.

Once again, there are certainly no deep dives into the "pool" to explain just why so many people, both young and old, are so dissatisfied with the consortium of politicians, corporate CEOs, generals, tech billionaires, arms dealers and bureaucrats that comprise the government.

Going with the flow, or staying within a party "mainstream," is a lot to ask of the people that our leaders are actively trying to drown: the forced dunking is the lack of guaranteed, single payer health care, housing, debt free education and the ironclad protection of reproductive rights in all 50 states.

So it's gratifying to learn that the people are, in ever increasing numbers, telling their overlords to just go soak their heads when they urge us to vote, vote and vote, even as they admonish us to leave the Supreme Court forced-birthers in peace, and above all, to only engage in the kind of regimented violence that is fully sanctioned by the oligarchic state.

When they tell you to shut up, when they try to drown you out, just keep on screaming. Our voices are the only life-preservers that too many of us have left.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Some Great Biden Replacement Theories

 It's not whether Joe Biden will run for another term. It's whether he'll outlast the first one. According to Peter Baker of the New York Times, Biden has actually taken to shuffling, as if mumbling, fumbling, and bumbling were not already bad enough.

The Democratic Industrial Complex (DIC) is on a campaign of nudging the old guy out now, and eventually replacing him with younger flesh. Billionaire Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and his California counterpart, Gavin Newsom, are the two most prominent names that the establishment media are currently and delicately promoting to the liberal masses for the smooth manufacture of their consent.

Despite Biden often calling his vice president "President Harris" in what appear to be multiple episodes of senile perseveration, the DIC-heads are studiously not promoting Kamala to run in 2024. It turns out that Biden's penchant for tossing word salads is contagious, because Harris herself has developed quite the habit of uttering nonsensical answers to reporters' questions.  The DIC bet in 2020 that she'd attract women and minority voters solely by dint of her exotic identity, but that hasn't  panned out in terms of her actual performance.

It's July, the height of the silly season for idle speculation. If the establishment DIC pundits can engage in the parlor game of which potential political savior can keep them in their careers and in the Loop for just a few years longer (and also delay the Second Coming of Trump), then so can I. Or as my dad used to tease me: "Don't start crying or you'll get a soaken eye!"

I agree that since it is always better to resort to bitter laughter, if only to keep from weeping over the corrupt state of our political system, I will engage in my own idle speculation with two totally dry eyes.

Scenario #!: As I'd predicted when Biden first got the nomination, he will be such an utter failure at presiding that he could very well announce his retirement even before the November midterms in order to avoid blame when taking the whole Democratic slate down with him. The more the establishment gnashes its teeth over him, the lower his approval ratings keep going. The red line for the DIC-heads seemed to be when he became even more disapproved of than Donald Trump! And so the ratings continue to plummet exponentially, with the bad press and the Biden gaffes vying with each other in a sort of pre-horserace horserace. If this goes on much longer, Biden will end up with an approval rating of One Percent - which, given his assurance to his rich donors that "nothing would fundamentally change," seems kind of apt.

To elicit the requisite sympathy for him and to assuage the guilt of the DIC-heads nudging him out, Biden will be diagnosed with some disease; whether it's real or it's fake makes no difference. Or, his handlers might forget for one fateful moment to get the trip wires that Peter Baker was hand-wringing over out of the way of his shuffling, ancient feet. 

Scenario #2: He will resign right after the Great Congressional Shellacking of 2022. Not because he doesn't truly relish the prospect of wheeling and dealing with Mitch McConnell, and accomplishing his lifetime goal of cutting Social Security and Medicare while keeping the endless war money spigot flowing, but because the Republicans are bound to hold hearings on Hunter Biden and his various nepotistic schemes. Biden will do anything to protect his own legacy as well as the family name.

Scenario #3: Okay, so now that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy  hold off on investigating the Biden clan because he quit, and once Biden finally leaves (unless he pulls a Boris Johnson and stays), and Kamala Harris is sworn in as president, we now have the dilemma of whom she'll pick as her veep. My money is on Liz Cheney, the new anti-Trump heroine of  liberal DICsters like Robert Reich, who is already pushing her for the Democratic ticket. Plus, Mitch McConnell would ensure that Liz is handily confirmed.

Since the prospect of another Vice President Cheney is too nauseating to contemplate any further, here's where the speculation gets really wild. Scenarios could include, but are not limited to:

Due to her sheer, relentless incompetence, Default President Harris is denied the 2024 nomination by her former promoters in the DIC. 

At the last possible moment, the extremely popular Michelle Obama is nominated by acclaim convinced to run in order to prevent another Trump and to save the country from theocratic fascism. She picks Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Because why not. But as soon as she wins the election and is sworn in, Michelle resigns from office, because didn't she keep telling us over and over again how much she truly despises politics?

 By this appropriately serpentine route, Hillary is finally crowned as Leader of the New Old World Order.  Hasn't she told us over and over again that it is her turn?

Ridicule me if you must, but are my speculations any less far-fetched than, say, the vacuous Pete Buttigieg getting nominated and then getting handily defeated by the corpse of Trump, whose sudden death came too late to remove his name from the ballot?

 I've been reading that Pritzker might be the least-bad alternative to Biden and the rest, because he is at least a "pragmatic progressive" who pushed through a poverty-level $15 minimum wage for the Illinois proles.  Bernie Sanders's prediction that Joe Biden would be the reincarnation of FDR didn't work out so well, did it? But Pritzker is so rich that he could probably even force Joe Manchin to finally retire and spend more time with his coal. He is so rich he might even reduce Mitch McConnell into a state of helpless pseudo-humanity. Maybe Pritzker could even be a traitor to his whole class, just like FDR was, and thereby save both capitalism and dynastic wealth from themselves.

As always, I am very interested in hearing the thoughts and prayers and scenarios of readers. Be as far-fetched and silly as you like. Or, if that doesn't suit, you can always adopt the mantra of Kamala Harris, and opt for Smart, Sensible and Serious.