Sunday, August 28, 2022

It's Always Darkest Right Before the Dawn of the Dead.

 It seems like it was only a month ago that the undertakers of the Democratic Industrial Complex (DIC) were lowering shuffling old Joe Biden into his political grave before his body was even cold. 

But to prove that even moribund presidents can become reanimated zombies, the DIC-heads in the White House and their media scribes have suddenly changed the plot - they unearthed Joe Biden right out of the plot. They've transformed Joe Biden into a "bad-ass" monster named Dark Brandon. 

It's apparently meant as self-deprecating parody of the "Let's Go Brandon" pejorative  beloved of Trump fans ever since a crowd yelled "F--- Joe Biden" at Talladega Super Speedway last October. A TV commenter interviewing winner Brandon Brown had lamely tried to convince viewers that the crowd was really cheering for the athlete rather than cursing out the president.

Some bright DIC-heads unleashed the Dark Brandon persona on the world as an arch means to turn the insult right on its head. Manufactured legend has it that the Biden character is scaring whole audiences full of Republicans to death. Word has it that they're even vomiting in the aisles. Shorn of his aviator sunglasses,  Biden's newly revealed squinting red eyes are lasers blasting straight down into their soulless hypocritic innards, leaving them writhing in pain and whimpering for mercy.

Or, so the cheesy DIC narrative goes.

Now, if the monstrous Dark Brandon character reminds you of an aging Hellboy without the antlers and also happens to scare or at least nauseate you, your kids, your grandkids and your nervous Aunt Tillie, that is just necessary collateral damage in this virtual war for the democratic soul of our nation You simply must get in the spirit of DIC fun. Because despite all his loathsomeness, this is no demon from hell, people. This is the new, improved, "feisty" Joe Biden.

 According to the HuffPo, his reincarnation as Dark Brandon has millions of diehard DIC-heads all over the land thrilled in only the best of all possible worlds kind of way. If you can't beat a cartoon villain like Donald Trump with your misinformative anti-disinformation campaigns, then you might as well join him. You might as well throw all caution to the wind and turn electoral politics  into the full-bore monster movie franchise it always was anyway. 

  Imagine, if you will, the shuffling brain-dead lead zombie in Dawn of the Dead  suddenly turning into a "bad-ass" superhero right before your disbelieving eyes. Once only capable of sputtering out one gaffe or non sequitur after the other,  Dark Brandon has developed the preternatural ability to fire off pithy one-liners about rich people and their tax breaks in one breath, and in the next tell a room full of rich donors that Trump Republicans are "semi-fascists."

No matter that Dark Brandon didn't explain why they're only half-fascists and not whole ones. Because his blazing eyes and his fiery words slammed into the elite audience like a semi going a thousand miles an hour. The well-heeled patrons at that exclusive screening were reported to be shocked right into opening their wallets, if only to immunize themselves from insult, zombie virus - or god forbid, Biden threatening them with higher taxes.

 Former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer was so impressed with the new character, that his reliable stock of weasel words failed him. He was reduced to tweeting out: 

Notice that Bad-Ass Biden is not cursing his  rich donors and that he is only extending his index finger rather than the dreaded middle one. This edgy version of the meme actually communicates reassurance to the ruling class, lest they be fearful of getting parted from some of their cash against their will. Just because the propaganda about Biden has changed doesn't mean that anything else will. He did promise them that nothing affecting their coddled lives would ever fundamentally change.

Therefore, they shouldn't fret overmuch about his careful semi-forgiveness of student loans for a selected percentage of America's debt slaves. Because knocking $10,000 or as much as $20,000 off their debt is merely a band-aid over a gaping wound. The borrowers will continue to suffer and pay, while the rich themselves will never feel a thing. That's because the lower classes are being pitted against each other in yet another variation of the Divide and Conquer method which has always kept the rich wealthy and the powerful jn power. Non-grads will be instructed to resent the grads or the semi-grads for getting tossed a few extra pennies. They will not be urged to resent the for-profit colleges and the investors in the for-profit colleges - the real culprits in this overrated scam.

My advice? Pick an aisle seat close to an exit, and whatever you do, don't buy any more of their stale, dry, overpriced popcorn.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Keeping the Trump Franchise Alive

 Something must be off with my aghastitude meter, because for the life of me I just can't get excited about the ongoing saga of the FBI raid on Donald Trump's Florida estate, in search of allegedly stolen top secret classified documents.

Rumor had it that the G-Men were tipped off by an insider that Trump was hoarding the nuclear codes. This is despite numerous mainstream media reports, when he was in the White House within physical reach of the Big Red Phone, that his alarmed minions were keeping all this info out of his reckless hands. He was apparently in the habit of flushing sensitive stuff in the toilet, anyway. And besides, if he'd really wanted to sell the codes to the highest bidder, you'd think he would have struck a deal by now.

 The only thing we should really fear about nuclear war is the recent reckless provocations of the United States against both Russia and China. The manufactured fear that we'd get nuked got so intense, in fact, that New York City had taken to running public service announcements about what to do in the event of Armageddon.

 If you, like me, are of a certain age and vividly remember those useless classroom "duck and cover" drills during the First Cold war, you'll be happy to know that you can now save yourselves the modern way, without having to tax your knees and spine. All you have to do is go indoors and shut all your windows before lowering the blinds so that Russian or Chinese missiles won't see you. Or so that nobody else can see you either, given that you are also instructed to remove all your clothing and place it in a bag to contain radioactive dust. Then you should switch on the TV and await further instructions from experts who are sheltering in place in their network studios or underground bunkers. These instructions assume, of course, that you are not among the growing number of homeless people in the United States.

As it is right now, as I write this, turning on the TV or logging on to your favorite mainstream news site will subject you to one of two images: either a scowling Donald Trump raising his defiant fist, or numerous ground and aerial shots of Mar-a-Lago.

Given that the FBI raid and its wall-to-wall media coverage has boosted Trump ten points ahead of his closest GOP primary rival (Ron De Santis), he might consider renaming his club MAGA Largo and bragging that he is the reincarnation of that other embattled film noir hero hotelier Humphrey Bogart, holed up in his own Florida club, fighting off both the cops and the various sleazy gangsters and stool pigeons lurking about the place.

In actuality, Trump is simply the buffoon he always was. His coup attempt largely failed both because of his stupidity and lack of foresight and those of his inner circle of gangsters and stool pigeons. As historian and author (The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order) Gary Gerstle writes, 

The January 6 committee has now revealed how far Donald Trump was willing to go to prevent the peaceful and lawful transfer of power from his presidency to that of Joe Biden. Yet, his deadly serious attempt to upend American democracy also had a slapdash quality to it, reflecting Trump’s own impulsive nature and his reliance on a group of schemers – Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn, Sidney Powell, Roger Stone and John Eastman among them – of limited ability. It is not entirely surprising that Trump’s coup failed.

Another brazen GOP action, however, has succeeded – this one engineered by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, whose chess-like skills of political strategizing put to shame Trump’s powerful but limited game of bluster and bullying. The act to which I refer is McConnell’s theft of Barack Obama’s 2016 appointment to the supreme court, a radical deed that has dimmed somewhat in public consciousness even as it proved crucial to fashioning a rightwing supreme court willing to overturn Roe v Wade and to destabilize American politics and American democracy in the process.

So as I see it, there are several "takeaways" from both the raid and the corporate media's overwrought coverage of it. The first is that just because Trump is a doofus doesn't mean that his political rivals in the Democratic Party and the Biden Administration are all that intelligent either. Did they really think that going after him on suspicion of violating the Espionage Act and stealing papers would not boost his poll numbers, his cult of victimhood, and instigate a rightwing backlash against the rightwing FBI? Or, did they stupidly assume that the raid and possible resulting indictments would make him the ideal "pied piper" candidate for the doddering Joe Biden or other weak Wall Street candidate to easily trounce in 2024? Remember how well that cynical ploy worked out for the Dems in 2016, thanks in no small part to Bill Clinton urging Trump to run.

It seems odd that the Feds only got around to getting their search warrant a year and a half after these highly sensitive documents had gone missing. They were hiding in plain sight all along, or at least were in a secure location known to the authorities.

 The whole scenario could have been lifted straight from Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale of duplicates and duplicity, The Purloined Letter, plotted around a mysterious document rumored to expose the French queen's indiscretions and thus making her and various VIPS prone to blackmail and extortion. It isn't the content or even the existence of the stolen document that matters in this story. It's the suspicion that it does matter. It's the speculation of what it contains, if it does exist. It's the assigning of any importance or meaning of the recovered (or not) document.

 And we'll probably never learn about the content (or not) of Trump's purloined documents and perhaps compromising emails, photos or other intel. Censorious elites in fear of being embarrassed or compromised can and will always claim that transparency would only endanger "national security" and reward China, Russia, Iran or whatever enemy they can come up with next. Life imitates art in this case: one of the alleged documents sought and/or seized by the FBI involves the French president. Where's C. Auguste Dupin when you need him to untangle this latest mess of intra-oligarchic intrigue? Instead of the raiding FBI goons ruining Trump's day, perhaps an all-American rumpled cigar-chomping Columbo-type detective showing up at MAGA Largo HQ to flatter Trump would probably have gotten much better results than the elite army of J. Edgar Hoover has, so far anyway.

Could Trump himself have avoided all this drama if he had simply converted his palace into his official presidential library with the help of the National Archivist, as Barack Obama and others have done? Not that Obama's presidential library will contain the actual physical documents, but only an assurance that "digital" copies of same will be released, sometime in the vague and distant future. Trump's biggest offense, perhaps, is that he isn't a reader or a frequenter of libraries. He's not even offering the excuse that he is hard at work on his memoirs and thus needs copious official research material to refresh his memory and ensure accuracy, if not correct spelling or the editing out of numerous superfluous exclamation points. 

Donald Trump should be the least of our worries. The Supreme Court, the CIA, McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, the White House - they are only the first villains who come to mind. 

The MAGA Largo saga appears to be the Establishment's second act in the drama leading up to the November midterms, when both sides of the Duopoly would be perfectly fine with a banishment of both Trump fans and what's left of the progressive left. With the centrist liberal class's defense of both the police state, and their actual or attempted censorship of independent media voices, they have chosen to ignore that their FBI heroes also just raided the home of the leader of the African Black Socialists as well as other unnamed targets, accusing them of conspiring with Russia in order to undermine American democracy, interfere with the political process and worst of all offenses against neoliberal decency, "sow division." among citizens with their anti-war rhetoric. As reported by the World Socialist Website,

The APSP’s only activities noted in the indictment consist of holding rallies in various American cities opposing the “Genocide of African People in the United States” and making public statements denouncing US-NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine, while expressing political sympathy for Russia.

The case has all the hallmarks of a political frame-up targeting a political organization for its opposition to the US-NATO war against Russia. It points to an attempt to intimidate and criminalize opposition to the war more broadly.

It's gotten to the ridiculous point that any criticism of war and our leaders' reckless provocations of war, of censorship, and of the police state will get you labeled a Trump sympathizer or a fascist. They're gaslighting us not with expert propaganda, but with the equivalent of nitrous oxide. Their narratives are meant to manufacture fear and submission, but they're full of sound and furious silliness, signifying nothing so much as their own desperation. Their slapstick comedy would make us laugh if it weren't also so damned dangerous.


Whaddya Say, Boys - Should We Flush It Or Steal It?


Monday, August 8, 2022

Climate and Health, Neoliberal-Style

To call the odiously-named Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) a "watered-down" version of Joe Biden's original plan to fight climate change and expand the social safety net is actually doing unintended homage to such endangered bodies of water as Lake Mead, whose own declining levels are literally bringing up the bodies.

For despite the current hoopla,, there will be plenty of corpses arising from this "landmark legislation." Its very name is a dead giveaway that it is rife with debunked "trickle down" theory and tax breaks for the wealthy in lieu of cash aid to people. Despite a modest tax on corporations, stock buy-back schemes, and more money for IRS enforcement, the oligarchy will continue to profit at the expense of the rest of us. Wall Street's carried interest tax loophole, which Biden promised to close as a campaign stunt, survives and thrives. And the climate will continue to worsen.  The mere imposition of carbon offsets and the awarding of more carbon credits and threats of fines to polluters, while still allowing for the relentless destructive drilling for fossil fuels in the melting Arctic and the still-polluted Gulf of Mexico, is only one indication that this legislation is not serious. It is deeply and pathologically cynical. Joe Manchin's outrage-inducing perk of a new pipeline for West Virginia is a relatively miniscule part of it.

The establishment media is doing its damnedest, nevertheless, to cast the Senate passage of the IRA as a stunning victory for Democrats and a vindication for President Biden.  After all, any shallow body of water seems to take on volume in a storm. The froth and the frenzy that the headlines are whipping up makes this legislation seem more potent than it actually is. 

The media storm will die down soon enough, once people realize that there's nothing in the IRA. for them and they're still living in a cracked crater that used to be a reservoir.. There will be no debt relief, no subsidized child care, no paid family leave, no minimum wage increase, no reduction in drug prices if you're covered by private insurance or no insurance at all. The Democrats are banking on people not realizing how badly they've been screwed until after the mid-terms. The timing of Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema suddenly "caving" to the program at the last minute seems to be proof that the legislation is a self-serving grab for continued political power.

Granted, Medicare will finally be able to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. But that change won't go into effect until 2026, and it will be for only ten drugs, with incremental additions kicking in thereafter. That gives lobbyists and their bought politicians plenty of time to fiddle around and whittle away. Who knows, for example, which party will be in charge three or four years from now? If a Republican Congress doesn't repeal the measure outright, then a future director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services could magically spin through the revolving doors from the pharmaceutical industry itself. That way, even if the measure were left intact, the prospect of good faith negotiations would be rendered minimal to nonexistent. 

Even were the measure to go into effect tomorrow, it would be no guarantee, given that Biden named Liz Fowler, the former WellPoint and Johnson & Johnson executive and chief architect of the insurance industry-dictated Affordable Care Act, to head the payment policy division of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It also should come as no surprise that of all the health-centered provisions of the IRA, only the COVID-based enhanced subsidies to the insurance cartel will take effect immediately. (They'd been set to expire at the end of the year.)

But meanwhile, the New York Times is creating artificial waves in the equivalent of a kiddie pool:

The legislation, while falling far short of the ambitious $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act that the House passed in November, fulfills multiple longstanding Democratic goals, including countering the toll of climate change on a rapidly warming planet, taking steps to lower the cost of prescription drugs and to revamping portions of the tax code in a bid to make it more equitable.

It does not reverse. It merely counters. It does not give relief to consumers of the for-profit health care marketplace. It is merely taking steps. Its revamping of the tax code is only a "bid" to make it fair. In other words, it's pretty much aspirational. It's pretty much a P.R. gimmick. It's a descent into yet another simmering frog-pot, which they're marketing as a thrill-packed ride in a water park.


The government's "$400 billion investment" in climate change reversal partly consists of tax credits to well-off consumers who can afford to buy $40,000 or $50,000 electric cars, and to privatized utilities who, it is optimistically assumed, can be "prodded" but never quite required under threat of prison for CEOs, to invest in wind and solar power. 

Nonetheless,  The Times hypes the legislation as totally avoiding the "pitfalls" that 50 years of previous environmental control laws were subjected to. By using such language as "we're on the cusp" of solving global warming, the Times cheerleaders seem to contradict themselves.

But the actual goalpost is not stopping pollution.  Despite the fact that global warming will continue with a vengeance, we should be consoled. According to the Times, as long as people "believe" the evidence that they see and feel all around them, the oil and gas industry's propaganda war at least is lost.  And thus we might delay catastrophe for another relative nano-second:

All said that the incontrovertible evidence that climate change has already arrived— in the form of frighteningly extreme wildfires, drought, storms and floods afflicting every corner of the United States — has helped build political support. Increasingly, the sheer volume of real-time data has overwhelmed the well-financed, multidecade strategy of oil, gas and coal companies to sow doubt about the severity of climate change.

There was no mention in the article of the bribery power of Big Oil over corrupt politicians in Washington and in state-houses, however. That would have been a real downer for a populace which must be rendered triumphant and optimistic in time for the next election.

For the nation's poor people, whom the Times just condescended to notice in a different small-font buried headline on Monday's homepage, there will be no relief.  Instead, the IRA will dedicate "$60 billion to help disadvantaged areas that are disproportionately affected by climate change, including $27 billion for the creation of what would be "the first national “green bank” to help drive investments in clean energy projects — particularly in poor communities."

In other words. this reeks of being just one more creative way  for the wealthy to get government welfare and cast it as a way to help the poor - who simply cannot be trusted to spend money on their own.

A little history on this old bipartisan "trickle-down" neoliberal gimmick:

Promise Zones are the latest iteration of an idea first promoted by Jack Kemp, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President George H.W. Bush. He called them enterprise zones; the Republican approach offered tax incentives and regulatory relief for businesses that would provide jobs and commerce in impoverished inner-city and rural areas. Several states adopted this idea, but no federal legislation succeeded until 1993, when President Bill Clinton relabeled them empowerment zones, with little substantive difference. Modest levels of funding were attached, the bulk of which went to private-sector and government entities with claims that it would trickle down in jobs for the impoverished inhabitants. Success was likewise modest and accountability lacking.

From Barack Obama's version of the anti-New Deal regimen marketing of "poverty gold" promise zones as the lifting-up of poor people who themselves must be granted no say ordirect benefits, to Donald Trump's more blatant grift of the "opportunity zones" that his own family and cronies have directly profited from, we have now proceeded to "green banks" which I somehow doubt will be operated by just plain neighborhood "folks." Given how much Joe Biden loves his banking buddies in Delaware and at the Bank of America, look for the behemoths of hyper-capitalism to start submitting their bids and braying about their expertise and concern about the climate before his ink on the bill is even dry.

Remember his zoned-out promise to his donors that "nothing will fundamentally change?" It will remain a Winner Take All climate on Biden's watch.

Not for nothing is Lake Mead, rapidly being destroyed by the global warming of the Capitalocene epoch, just another endangered remnant of FDR's New Deal. It was created by the sweat and paid labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps, not a bunch of bespoke suits in a "promise zone."