Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Amtrak Joe To the Working Class: Drop Dead

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

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

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

His actual mealy-mouthed words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2022

Hot Planet, Warmed-Over Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Midterms: The Dead Sea of Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Biden's Speech: Control Vs Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

Good evening, everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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