Tuesday, March 14, 2023

And the Award Goes To...

 The hits just keep on coming. Who needed the Oscars orgy when we already had enough free reality to keep us engaged?

 In the space of only a few weeks, Joe Biden has sided with race-baiting Republicans in blocking criminal code reforms in Washington, D.C.; signaled that he will revive the cruel policy of jailing migrants in family detention centers; approved massive oil drilling on pristine federal land in Alaska that will release nearly 10 million more tons of carbon into the atmosphere: presented to Congress the most expensive military budget in history; accelerated plans for war with China by outfitting Australia with nuclear attack submarines; and rescued with public money a horde of tech millionaire depositors after their sketchy bank went bust.

Meanwhile, there is nothing in Biden's budget to either battle the still-raging Covid disaster, or to rescue tens of millions of poor Americans from the disaster stemming from the recent congressional cuts to food stamp and Medicaid benefits.

This is not just eugenics. This is blatant and vicious social class cleansing.

All of  the escalating predations and policy reversals under Biden and the complicit, corrupt courts and legislatures are interrelated, of course. What happens in Alaska will not stay in Alaska. Biden's deliberate acceleration of climate change will spur ever more migrations of desperate people trying to escape from locales whose crops will fail as a direct result of Biden's order to drill, baby, drill. More migration will necessitate the construction of more for-profit prisons, both for immigrants and the US-born multitudes who, if they are turning to crime in greater numbers, are doing so largely out of desperation.

 In its insane quest to remain the world's sole remaining superpower, the US hegemon under Biden isn't just marching to World War III. It's racing to World War III. It is precisely because the United States military is the world's largest consumer of fossil fuels and its champion global  polluter that it will need to extract more fossil fuels to wage more wars whose ultimate purpose is to extract more fossil fuels and more precious minerals in its quest to be the big global winner in a macabre contest of ecocide and homicide.

As for Biden, he seems to be in a race against his own 80-year time span. The White House seems to think that by presenting us with one crisis or attack after another, we'll become too befuddled and shell-shocked to react much before the next salvo.

They will, at the same time, try to divert our attention from Biden and his sinister aviator sunglasses onto the gruesome specter of Donald Trump - or worse, onto his more intelligent and even more slimily dangerous ideological spawn, Ron DeSantis.

 They'll also make a pretense of fairness. To name just one example of their placatory double talk, Biden is coupling the rape of Alaska via Conoco-Phillips's "Willow Project" with an executive order barring any drilling in the Arctic Ocean. He doesn't see fit to mention that oil companies themselves don't even want to drill in the Arctic because the US/Canada controlled western portion of the coastline is too dangerous and too expensive for them to exploit. Since it's not as dangerous or expensive to drill for oil in the more placid eastern, Norway and Russia-controlled portion of the melting Arctic, Biden's decision for Alaska makes perfect sense. His military bases in Norway and his alleged order to blow up Russia's Nord Stream pipeline last fall were only the opening gambits in a total world war for oil.

 The polite establishment media, for their part, are fretting about his legacy going down in flames. Still, as the New York Times euphemizes the rise of Biden the Berserker, his punishment of migrants and his nixing of the "soft on crime" policies in largely Black and liberal Washington, DC, is just Uncle Joe returning to his more comfortable "centrist" roots.

After two years championing some of his party’s top progressive priorities, the president lately is speaking more to the concerns of the political middle, seeking to recapture the more centrist identity that long defined him....

During the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, he overcame liberal rivals like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and positioned himself as a sensible centrist in the fall campaign when he defeated Mr. Trump. After taking office, however, he adopted some of the more expansive policy goals of the progressive wing. He cast himself as a new-generation Franklin D. Roosevelt pressing for a modern-day New Deal, with large-scale spending on climate change, social welfare programs and student debt relief that will add trillions of dollars to the national debt in years to come.

It was all a con, people! Joe Biden was never on our side. He's had a whole half-century in politics to prove just whose side he is on.

 Framing the destruction of the planet around one mediocre elected official's political identity and prospects certainly helps them to ignore the terrifying truth that if everybody on earth is suffering, the survivors of Biden's onslaught will not much care about his legacy. If they're the wealthy benefactors of his legacy, they and their descendants can honor his birthday every year on their mega-yachts on rising oceans and in their gated communities in tropical Greenland or even from their planned space colonies.

The role of journalism in this time of the decline and fall of the American empire is not so much to inform its consumers as it is to alternately comfort them and blame all of society's ills on one or the other of the two oligarch-controlled political parties -  whose own main role is to control the population by dividing people against one another.

Speaking of their implicit role of comforting the comfortable, the Times and other establishment media's overwrought, glowing, nonstop coverage of the Oscars actually vied for precedence with the Arctic drilling threat and the meltdown of Silicon Valley bank over the weekend. Gawking at Lady Gaga's see-through dress was bound to divert our attention from bank meltdowns and global warming and political malfeasance. Right?

I didn't watch the Oscars because I don't care and I don't have cable. I can, however, personally boast of having a few degrees of separation from this year's Academy Awards. Portions of "The Whale," whose lead player Brendan Fraser won best actor honors, were filmed at my apartment complex in upstate New York, just as the Covid pandemic was entering its second year.

I wrote about the abysmal treatment of the tenants of my building at the time. The gist of it was that neither the movie's producer nor the apartment management company got permission from the residents to invade our space. Nor did they compensate us for the inconvenience of literally being made prisoners trapped in our own apartments just so they could make a movie about a guy trapped in his apartment due to obesity and depression. (As an update to that original blog post, I did later file a complaint with the state attorney general's office for violations of the "right to quiet enjoyment." They took my complaint seriously and I eventually won a four-day rent abatement from the landlord.)

I haven't seen the movie, which got mixed reviews. But leave it to the New York Times (whose real estate section had already covered my complaint about the building being converted into a movie set) to include in its own negative review a classist dig at the apartment complex where I still live.

The movie camera, guided by Darren Aronofsky and his go-to cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, also stays indoors most of the time. Occasionally you get an exterior view of the drab low-rise building where Charlie lives, or a breath of fresh air on the landing outside his front door. But these respites only emphasize a pervasive sense of confinement.

The trailer of the movie actually included a shot of the drab exterior in order, I suppose, to give potential viewers a respite from the confinement. If you want to watch and judge the aesthetics of the acting and architecture for yourselves, here's the clip:

Okay, so now that I've deflected your attention from all the overriding unpleasantness, I'll close this post with some more reality, cloaked though it may be by the media establishment fantasy couture that we've come to expect.

This month's "best performance by a self-proclaimed disinformation expert" award  is hereby presented to:

For those of you who missed it,  the explosion of the Nord Stream pipeline which Joe Biden had as much as admitted was in the works has now been blamed by unknown government officials upon unknown "pro-Ukrainian forces" These forces were under the direction of neither the United States nor of its client state of Ukraine, over which the United States has no control despite its funding of the proxy war against Russia. The Times article reads like an unfunny remake of "Duck Soup," in which a country called Prokrainia goes to war against another country called Sylvania, all thanks to the largesse of the richest country on earth, aptly named Freedonia.

The reviews are in, and they're really, really bad. The New York Times reader commentariat, at least, were having none of this Mystery Science Theater plotline. So I didn't teel too bad when the Times censors rejected my own comment:

The Times has finally -finally! - deigned to respond to Seymour Hersh's scoop about the Biden administration blowing up the Nord Stream pipeline.  According to the government, either "pro-Ukrainian forces" or the Russians did it.

So this is how the Times answers all its critics who were wondering why on earth it had not reported on Seymour Hersh's scoop. I suppose the NYT couldn't keep up the "censorship by omission" policy any longer. It's like Mayor Pete finally going to East Palestine almost two weeks after the train disaster. Better late than never!

To their credit, though, the reporters writing this tongue-in-cheek story don't really try all that hard to hide the truth (or their own embarrassment) as they euphemize a skilled navy seal dive team into some fantasy "pro-Ukrainian" forces. Can't you do better than that, NYT?

  1. You at least could have repurposed your last exciting episode, the one about the Chinese spy balloons. A theory that UFOs piloted by space aliens, who then converted them into invisible submarines to blow up pipelines would have been more plausible than this sad attempt at fooling maybe a couple of people. "It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids, without the knowledge of the individual, certainly without any choice. That's the way your hardcore Commie works." - Gen Jack D. Ripper, Dr. Strangelove.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Joe Biden's Sickly Plan To "Save" Medicare

 What safer place to kick off one's campaign for a second term than in the friendly "rich, white and blue" pages of the New York Times?  If you're an age-addled Joe Biden who must often rely on the cue cards supplied by your minions, publishing a "guest op-ed"  certainly beats holding a press conference and facing possibly hostile questions from the media.  Of course, it being the corporate-sponsored Washington press corps,  any hostility would probably be restricted to goading Biden into cutting health care rather than expanding it. 

It is far, far safer to pen (or have an underling pen) a gaffe-less and gutless essay in which the highest-rated responses in the readers' comments section are in the vein of "thank you for being a friend, Mr. President!"  It's perfect way to be seen as big and bold rather than as the sniveling and craven politician that he truly is.

Because when you carefully read between the lines of Biden's essay, there are all the usual buzzword-heavy signs and symptoms that this Medicare plan is just one more neoliberal head-fake to maintain, even enhance, the status quo of American pain and suffering. Nothing would still fundamentally change under this president's second watch.

It starts out with a real bang of a whimper, as Joe Biden actually tries to distance himself from the position of power that he has occupied for the last half-century: 

Only in Washington can people claim that they are saving something by destroying it.

The budget I am releasing this week will make the Medicare trust fund solvent beyond 2050 without cutting a penny in benefits. In fact, we can get better value, making sure Americans receive better care for the money they pay into Medicare.

He doesn't spell out his definitions of "value" and "care" in this campaign speech of an essay. He doesn't mention that his administration has already begun a pilot program that stealthily privatizes Medicare. Called the REACH program, it aims to move Medicare enrollees into private, for-profit managed care plans without their understanding or consent. This will result in the same kinds of restrictive networks and the rationing or denial of care that already operate in other for-profit "health maintenance organizations," or HMOs.

And as much as Biden pretends to chide "MAGA Republicans" in his op-ed, his privatization scheme is a direct offshoot of Donald Trump's own maga-rific agenda. Uncle Joe has simply changed the name of the horror that punishes the innocent and rewards the lords of capitalism.

As we have already seen with the cost-cutting-for-profit railroad disaster in Ohio, whenever private equity and shareholder interests hold sway, the rights of regular people disappear into a toxic mist. This will also hold true for Medicare privatization. Money might be saved for the investor class. Lives, not so much.

But back to Biden's mendacious op-ed.

The Inflation Reduction Act ended the absurd ban on Medicare negotiating lower drug prices, required drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they increase prices faster than inflation and capped seniors’ total prescription drug costs — saving seniors up to thousands of dollars a year. These negotiations, combined with the law’s rebates for excessive price hikes, will reduce the deficit by $159 billion.

He forgets to mention that the price reductions of which he boasts are only for 10 drugs  and they will not go into effect for many years. The exception is for insulin, which voters of all ages must often take to stay alive and, of course, vote in the next national elections.

 And as long as Biden mentions absurdity, isn't it insane how he keeps harping on about reducing the almighty deficit as though it were more important than reducing people's pain and anxiety? This is dog-whistled pandering to his Wall Street donors, pure and simple. Remember, he is only "asking" them to pay a smidgen more in taxes to pay for his deforms. This is money that will only grow exponentially for them once the stealth Medicare privatization is a done deal. It's the destruction that he only pretends to decry as he hypocritically poses as the savior of seniors. Or, as he specifies cynically, at least for another generation.

Here is my somewhat whimsical and censor-proof published Times response to Joe Biden:

Since this budget plan for Medicare is purely aspirational, and doesn't stand a chance of congressional passage, then why is it so limited?

Negotiations with nihilistic Republicans should start from a position of strength Politely asking the wealthy to pay just a wee bit more of their "fair share" in taxes is the same old, same old signal of defeat. It is a veritable invitation to a sausage-making party with the Party of No (and not a few of those "moderate" Dems.) If the Democrats are lucky, they'll get a deal for a tax increase beginning a decade from now for those making a million and up. Since Mr. Biden made no mention of the Medicare eligibility age, I can only assume that he is willing to raise it, just as President Obama offered to do during his "Grand Bargain" negotiations with John Boehner. The only reason that the eligibility age hasn't changed is that the Tea Party nihilists thought raising it by two years was just not cruel enough. I'd feel somewhat better if Joe Biden's plan to "protect" Medicare at least included a vow to maintain the current eligibility age. I'd feel a whole heckuva lot better if he'd embraced Bernie Sanders's plan to lower the eligibility age to 55. I'd be in heaven if the president threw all caution to the winds and began clamoring for Medicare For All, or at for least for the public option that he promised during his first campaign.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Rise of the Censorship-Industrial Complex

Since the First Amendment outlaws censorship by the U.S. government, our modern censors can't actually call themselves censors. They prefer to be known as "disinformation" specialists, whose mission is to "disrupt" any narratives and opinions that they don't like. They are particularly averse to criticism of their proxy war in Ukraine.

They operate under many different names and they get their funding from many different sources: various government agencies, the public-private war machine known as NATO, philanthropies, academia, and  corporations. Whenever the professional disinformation warriors inevitably get exposed as the blatant and often clumsy censors that they are, they retreat for about a minute before regenerating themselves under a new foundation, a new consortium, a new think tank. 

Last spring, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was forced to abandon its "Disinformation Governance Board" when it was called out as Orwellian by various civil liberties groups.

A couple of weeks ago, journalist Matt Taibbi exposed the German Marshall Fund's  "Hamilton68 Dashboard" as a Twitter-FBI partnership of a scam fed to a complicit establishment media in order to further the equally fraudulent "Russiagate" narrative. It turned out that hundreds of Twitter accounts flagged as belonging to Kremlin bots mostly belonged to innocent people.

 A couple of days ago, the government finances behind an outfit called the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) were revealed by columnist Jonathan Turley. With GDI's publication of the top ten allegedly most dangerous news sites, the State Department hastily cut off its own illegal funding - even though the GDI had tried to make a cute end-run around the First Amendment by declaring itself to be based in Great Britain, which doesn't have the same press freedoms as America supposedly does.

What the top ten most dangerous sites all have in common is that they are right-leaning, and they have been critical of the war in Ukraine. What the top ten "least dangerous" sites listed by GDI have in common is that they are generally liberal, and they have been non-critical of the war in Ukraine. Many of them, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and HuffPo, had  also helped to amplify the Russiagate narrative in the years since Donald Trump took office. (Buzzfeed also had the unique distinction of being the first "safe" outlet to publish the fictional Steele Report, linking Trump to the Kremlin). The safe sites were also users of the discredited Hamilton 68 Dashboard. Their ongoing anti-Russia narratives not only served to generate and amplify the Trump hatred, it helped glean Democratic voters' support for the CIA, the FBI, and the US proxy war in Ukraine.

The GDI website comes right out and admits that its idea of "disinformation" includes any critical discussion of the US-fomented 2014 Ukraine coup and the US's role in instigating Putin's invasion last year: 

GDI has observed a number of ad tech companies monetising anti-Ukrainian and anti-democratic disinformation.

This deck includes examples of ad-funded stories promoting a range of harmful adversarial narratives: ● Western aggression: Under President Biden’s watch the U.S. has instigated a war with Russia. There was an anti-constitutional coup d'etat in 2014 in which Western-backed extremists overthrew the democratically elected government. ● NATO bioweapons threat: The U.S. and other NATO allies have military biological projects in Ukraine. ● Legitimate intervention: At the request of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Russian Federation started a ‘special operation’ to protect them. These disinformation narratives have been identified across multiple websites in multiple languages.

GDI practices its "name and shame" censorship by putting pressure not only on the tech platforms which publish ads next to the antiwar discourse, but also on the corporations paying for the ads. They aim to squelch dissent by cutting off the financial wherewithal to publish it.

As an example of this indirect censorship, GDI posted a screenshot of a Zero Hedge article which lambasted Joe Biden's goading of Vladimir Putin into invading Ukraine. It named and it shamed Best Buy, Acer and other corporations for funding this "disinformation." It also prominently circled in red an ad for Harvard Medical School that was placed next to the antiwar piece.

GDI is careful not to accuse its media antagonists of actually lying about the coup, the war and about other topics. It's not so crass as to label critics disloyal or un-American. Instead, it defines the "disinformation" that it fights as the use of "adversarial language." It does not at all subscribe to the traditional notion that journalism is supposed to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." 

To hear them tell it, the security/war state is the afflicted one. Because they are just not comfortable with free speech.

Journalism, according to these current and former "intelligence community" apparatchiks, should strive to protect "institutions" and "established wisdom," as well as protecting such vulnerable groups as trafficked children and immigrants. Adversarial reporting - no matter whether those attacked are the powerful or the powerless -  can only sow divisions in society and cause the sort of "harm" that they never quite get around to specifying, but which can lead to "violence, illness and death."

The censors identify the following categories of potential victims that writers must avoid annoying or attacking, either implicitly or explicitly.

 ■ at-risk individuals or groups ■ current scientific consensus ■ democracy and key institutions ○ Most importantly, these adversarial narratives create a risk of harm. ● This definition transcends false binaries and identifies disinformation explicitly by adversarial narrative topic, such as anti-immigrant, misogyny, anti-vaccination, etc.

It's hard to overstate this essential insanity: the censors actually conflate genuinely at-risk individuals and groups with the very same powerful institutions that put people at such risk in the first place, with their wars and their savaging of domestic social contracts. GDI and its spider web of a cohort represent and protect themselves through the coercion and oppression of their own victims - and now, their media critics. It's a classic case of Freudian projection. The Disinformation Police are themselves the prime purveyors of disinformation.

And First Amendment be damned, because the killing of critique and dissent is a global enterprise, and other countries do, or at least they should, have censorship laws on the books to keep the masses in order and render free-speakers mute.

On the GDI to-do list:

GDI calls for effective policy enforcement This enforcement should prioritise the following areas at an EU and global level: ● Risk assessments: Guaranteeing that all systemic risks (e.g. disinformation, election manipulation, harms to minors online etc.) are catalogued by the Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs), rather than only the most prominent, recurrent risks. ● Data access: Ensuring civil society has access to relevant and timely platform data in order to provide third party scrutiny. ● Oversight: In the case of the Digital Services Act, establishing a multistakeholder advisory group to oversee implementation, with experts drawn from civil society. ● Effectiveness: Adversarial narrative framing of disinformation should be included within regulatory regimes to tackle the scope of harmful content. An urgent, long-term and industry-wide solution is needed to end the monetisation of harmful disinformation.

And to be effective, censorship and the murder of independent thought (not to mention the destruction of creative joy) has to start early, as soon as children learn how to read. They first have to be shielded by the censorship-sympatico Inclusivity Squad from harmful divisive words like "fat" and "ugly," which the late author Roald Dahl used to describe his lovably hideous fictional characters.

All I can say is, if the Speech Cops can stoop so low as to mangle a dead writer's words, then so can I! Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (or should I say Slenderperson?)

Thou, too, sail on, O Censorship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!is th the majority of disinformation on the web is motivated by financial gain, the result of the dominat attention-driven business models that drive today’s intern

The Sinkable Crew of the Good Ship Global Disinformation

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Be Wary of Co-Opted Antiwar Rage

 I have nothing against right-left coalitions, especially right-left coalitions that protest against war. Any action that has the potential to rile up and inform people about the violence that is being waged in their names is an action that is long overdue. And with the potential that both the current U.S. proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, and the saber-rattling of the U.S. against China, will lead directly to a nuclear World War III makes a resurgent antiwar movement absolutely essential.

The problem with this Sunday's Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington, D.C. is that both the organizations leading it are tainted.

 Most of the criticism has been leveled against the Libertarian Party side, whose ascendant Mises faction has been rightly called out for racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Leftist participants in the rally, including the respected journalist Chris Hedges, now find themselves the targets of all the "guilt by association" smears we've come to expect whenever disparate groups join together in common cause or even so much as talk to each other. 

Thus has the overriding narrative of the Rage Against the War Machine rally devolved into yet another of those circular firing squads, largely playing out on YouTube. The actual wars and the danger they pose to the world are taking a back seat.

And it certainly doesn't help that "the left" is being solely represented at this rally by a PAC calling itself Movement for a People's Party. I looked into this outfit back in 2021, and I didn't much like what I discovered. The details are here.

To synopsize that post: after five years of existence, the People's Party PAC has yet to put forth a single candidate for any local, state or national office. (It has, however, expressed great excitement that comedian Jimmy Dore, a rally headliner, "might run for president'.)  This PAC has conducted regular purges of its mostly volunteer staff, and its website even admonishes potential members that any internal arguments or outbursts of office rudeness will get them hauled before a "Regenerative Culture Circle."

Since I wrote that blog-post, the MPP's founder and director, Nick Brana, was accused of harassing and assaulting his paid communications consultant and one-time girlfriend, Zeynap Day. But rather than go before his own creepy regenerative culture circle, he hightailed it to Jimmy Dore's YouTube channel to defend himself. (Since you have to be paid subscriber of the Jimmy Dore Show in order to watch this clip, I can't link to it... sad, right?)

But according to Jordan Cheriton, another YouTuber and blogger, Brana ending up purging all the members of his own board for investigating the charges against him. He accused them of being "Democratic Party infiltrators" out to destroy both him and his PAC.

So the World Socialist Website absolutely nails it when it characterizes the organizers of this weekend's rally as an alignment of the far right with "many of the conceptions of the Stalinist Popular Front." Chris Hedges and other participants no doubt are striving to look past the personalities and the rhetoric involved in order to just get the antiwar message out, no matter what the sources and no matter what the cost and personal reputational damage to themselves that it might engender.

Isn't it possible ihat some attendees will be inspired enough to reject both organizations, forge partnerships of their own, and then go forth to protest the wars in new coalitions?

Perhaps the younger people attending the rally will not, as the World Socialists fear, be confused and disoriented by these phony factions posing as activists against the war in Ukraine. But it's still disappointing that in an essay defending his participation in the rally, the influential Chris Hedges approvingly quotes Nick Brana, who claims that the "left" (as opposed to his defective brand of authoritarian populism) is just concerned with identity politics and "condemns half the country as deplorables." Hedges fails to push back at Brana's characterization of the Democratic Party as the "left" - a ridiculous definition, by the way, and one that is wholeheartedly shared by Republicans unhappy that the Dems are horning in on their own right-wing turf. 

I'm not saying that people should boycott this rally. I'm saying that people who attend should keep their eyes and ears wide open and their bullshit detectors on high alert at all times. Engage with the people around you. But watch out for those FBI provocateurs as you march to the White House! You can usually spot them by how well-dressed or how poorly dressed they are compared to everyone else.

 Above all, don't give any of these organizing people and their vendors selling overpriced T shirts any of your money.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Let's Pop the Biden Balloon

The reviews are in, and from what I've read so far, they're damned near unanimous: Joe Biden totally "brought it" to Tuesday night's State of the Union (SOTU) spectacle. That means he did good, especially since everybody's who's anybody was bracing for disaster.  Some concerned critics were even resurrecting his advanced age in order to pre-excuse him and urge him not to run again.  Others pre-blamed his stuttering issue on what was feared to be a gaffe-a-thon. 

But as the New York Times emotively reported over the weekend, Biden had practiced for this event really, really hard. The cinematic "King's Speech" pathos is nothing next to Biden's own epic verbal struggles. 

His TelePrompter came complete with dashes for when he should pause, slashes for when he should raise his voice, and smaller font for when he should lower his voice. (OK, so I was only kidding about that last bit.) According to the Paper of Record,

“This is a guy who has been remarkably consistent over a very long career both in the values he brings to the job and the way he articulates those values,” said Jeff Nussbaum, a former Biden White House speechwriter. “When you’re writing for Joe Biden, you’re a session musician for a band that has already released 20 albums.”

But, Mr. Nussbaum added, there was a reason behind the consistency, which he said had led the president’s list of legislative victories: “Joe Biden has to say the same thing a thousand times before the world catches up to him.”

Preparations for Mr. Biden’s State of the Union speeches begin weeks in advance. Several aides described a process in which the president demands that sentences be written clearly — no acronyms! — and illustrate his legislative accomplishments in terms real people can understand. He spends weeks working on each speech with his writers, reading over and over again, top to bottom, and out loud.

I admit it, readers. I caved and watched the whole spectacle. I didn't even flinch when the camera panned to Bono sitting in the first lady's box. Stuttering was not that big of a deal. Rather, it was the slurring of his words, many of which were what the Times has delicately euphemized as exaggerations and uncontextualized - as opposed, let us say, to outright lying. All politicians lie, after all. Some of them, as Izzy Stone observed, even inhale the same hashish that they peddle to the masses.

It is only now, after nearly a half-century of calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, that Joe Biden has suddenly taken to verbally championing these programs and projecting his own historical position right onto the Republicans. When he remarked in his speech that "some but not all"  Republicans in the audience wanted to let the programs sunset, there were howls of outrage from the likes of a fur-clad Marjorie Taylor Greene, who yelled out "Liar!" They took Biden's bait, whereupon he smugly announced that all the nutjobs in the chamber were now officially on record as opposing the cuts, after all. Point, Uncle Joe. According to the refs in the media, he handled the heckling like a true champ.

Of course, he never defined his terms. No politician ever uses the word "cut" when they talk about imposing pain and austerity on the masses of people. Rather, these programs must be modernized, improved, reformed, and protected for future generations, Just because no self-serving politician will ever reduce benefits for current recipients  doesn't mean that they won't agree to raise the retirement age beginning in, say, 2035.

So what if Biden made a big show about vaguely taxing the wealthy? He didn't actually come right out and suggest that we scrap the cap on FICA contributions as a way to render Social Security solvent into perpetuity.

Later in the speech, when Biden introduced the grieving parents of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis man beaten to death by thugs with badges, he quickly -- too quickly, in my view - pivoted right from police brutality into restoring the ban on assault weapons. He slurred and he blurred state-sanctioned violence straight into a condemnation of renegade civilian violence  Perhaps it was to keep people from remembering that it was Biden himself who spearheaded the militarization of local police departments with his COPs legislation, which moved such surplus hardware as tanks and grenade launchers and assault weapons into even relatively small and extremely untrained police departments. 

Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform.

Do something. Do something.

That was the plea of parents who lost their children in Uvalde — I met with every one of them. Do something about gun violence.

Thank God, thank God we did. Passing the most sweeping gun safety law in three decades.

That includes things like that the majority of responsible gun owners already support: enhanced background checks for 18- to 21-year-olds. Red flag laws keeping guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and others.

His alleged disgust at weapons in dangerous hands at home does not extend to keeping them out of dangerous hands elsewhere. As a matter of fact, he has quietly allowed unqualified civilians at home to become freelance arms dealers, to supplement the billions of dollars in weaponry already appropriated by Congress for the US's proxy war on Russia in Ukraine.

The New York Times told the tale recently of a limo driver and a doctor with no prior experience in arms trading who partnered up and got almost instant permission from the Biden administration to pursue a lucrative $30 million weapons deal. Such an endeavor would normally take months of government vetting and subsequent stringent tracking, but in this and other cases, approval came within hours. The driver and the doctor apparently were not even subject to a mental health check or other requirements which are sometimes imposed on run-of-the-mill gun purchasers who buy a weapon or arsenal for their own direct, personal use. From the Times article:

Weapons sold through private brokers are far more likely to end up on the black market and resurface in the hands of American adversaries, according to government advisers and academics who study the trade. Recent experience in Afghanistan and Syria shows that, without strict tracing policies, weapons can end up with terrorist groups or hostile military forces....

 “It’s the Wild West,” said Olga Torres, a lawyer who represents arms exporters and serves on the federal Defense Trade Advisory Group. “We are seeing a lot of people who were previously not involved in arms sales getting involved now because they see the opportunity.”

It's capitalism, after all. And Joe Biden did find it necessary in his SOTU speech  to once again remind folks that, despite the crazy GOP smears of socialism leveled against him, he is indeed a diehard capitalist.

All the speech previews I'd read had also predicted that Biden would not be so crass as to brag about shooting down that Chinese spy or weather balloon this past weekend. But once again, stalwart Uncle Joe proved the pundits wrong.  Because when it comes to bellicose chest-thumping, even aged leaders are miraculously transformed into virile young studs whenever they order a phallic missile deployment:

 if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did last weekend.

And let’s be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world.


I wish someone would explain to me why shooting down a balloon is a sign of winning some "competition. Maybe Joe thought he was throwing darts at balloons in a carnival booth, or maybe he was fomenting a new cold or hot war.

Whatever his meaning, how exactly would conflict with China "unite all of us?"  Because the only picture I'm getting in my head right now is a nuclear bomb melding everyone and everything on Earth into one great big gruesome blob of flesh and ashes.

The congress-critters in Biden's audience certainly were united in their own impervious and titillated reaction to death and destruction, however.  The prospect of war gets them amorously excited every single time. They all stood up as one great big orgasmic mass of session musicians, and broke right into that standard SOTU favorite:


Monday, February 6, 2023

The Horror of Congressional Hunger Games

Just as the Biden administration prematurely announced the end of the public health emergency, just as pandemic-related Medicaid coverage and enhanced food assistance are abruptly being yanked away from millions of vulnerable people, our elected congressional "representatives" in the lower house last week found it necessary to twist the knife in even further.  

 One hundred nine Democrats joined 218 Republicans in passing a resolution "denouncing the horrors of socialism."

Even the democratic, pluralistic socialism practiced in the Scandinavian countries will inevitably devolve into vicious authoritarianism, the document insinuates, as it falsely and hysterically conflates the regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot with the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Among the Democrats, you might be surprised to learn that Ro Khanna of California broke ranks with the progressive caucus,  justifying his own condemnation of socialism by pleading that he is a "progressive capitalist." Fourteen other progressives decided to just play it safe and simply voted "present" in response to the GOP's red-baiting resolution.

 My own newly-elected Democratic rep, Pat Ryan, had just delivered a rousing floor speech blasting our local, private equity-owned utility for ripping off its customers .But since he'd only demanded the resignation of its CEO, and didn't actually call for taking the gas and electric company public, I wasn't too surprised when he also condemned the "horrors" that a government-run utility would inflict upon its victimized customers.

It's a dog-eat-dog world out here in America. It doesn't matter to either establishment party that more than a million of their constituents are dead of Covid, and that at least 500 of us still are being killed by it every single day. 

 The anti-socialist resolution justifies its inherent cruelty and cynicism by pointing to the puritanical principle of rugged individualism upon which this nation was founded:

Whereas the Father of the Constitution, President James Madison, wrote that it is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest; and

Whereas the United States of America was founded on the belief in the sanctity of the individual, to which the collectivistic system of socialism in all of its forms is fundamentally and necessarily opposed: Now, therefore, be it resolved 

 That Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.

The resolution, introduced by Florida Republican Maria Salazar, is no doubt also the result of socialist politicians winning a slew of recent elections in Central and South America  US-based corporations might be thwarted in their campaign to extract natural resources, such as oil, and exploit populations in the process. The actual and potential loss of predatory power, both at home and abroad, is really what the lords of global capital and their political servants find so horrific. 

But for all its paranoid craziness, this anti-social and anti-socialist proclamation should at least put paid to the notion that the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils. In fact, too many Democrats want to be Republicans. Ro Khanna voted for the resolution because his bright future in the corporate California party depends on it.

The Covid pandemic has been both a curse and a blessing to the poor. While they have sickened and died in disproportionate numbers during the last three years, our government's temporary socialistic policies of guaranteed health care,  a trio of stimulus checks,  eviction protections and rent assistance, enhanced SNAP (supplemental nutrition) stipends, unemployment benefits, and child tax credits in the way of cold hard cash to families improved their lives so much that for the first time in their lives, millions of Americans discovered what it's like to live without financial precarity and hunger. It was socialism in action, and it has absolutely horrified Congress and the very wealthy and the very tax-averse people who fund the politicians and who nevertheless actually became even richer from the pandemic.

No wonder they're yanking benefits away from vulnerable people, whose version of getting back to  Normal means going without medical care and adequate food, and becoming even more prone to losing the roofs over their heads as evictions by private equity landlords have commenced in higher numbers than ever.

Just the enhanced SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits alone, set to abruptly stop in March in the 35 states that still disbursed them, had cut child poverty by 14 percent. About 42 million people will now see their monthly food allotments drop by at least $95 or as much as hundreds of dollars, depending upon household size and income. This austerity move, passed by Congress just before Christmas, with little fanfare or media coverage, comes at the worst possible time, becaise grocery prices are still increasing and food banks are strapped for donations.

Alice Reznikova, of the Union of Concerned Scientists warns of an approaching hunger cliff, a needless crisis directly caused by bipartisan congressional malfeasance:

In December, in a rush to prevent a government shutdown, but lawmakers pitted summer child nutrition programs against the still-needed continuation of pandemic expansion to SNAP dollars, which had offered low-income households additional SNAP dollars since April 2021. While we applaud the passing of hopefully permanent support to child nutrition programs, we called out Congress for presenting a false choice between alleviating food insecurity for all SNAP recipients during the continued national emergency… and alleviating food insecurity only for SNAP households with children, only during summers. 

But wait! It gets even more antisocially cynical, because at the same time that Congress allotted a measly $40 per month per needy child for a measly three months out of the year, it made the Hunger Games even more exciting by cutting out free school lunches for 30 million needy children for the other nine months of the year. That is because the income eligibility requirements relaxed due to the pandemic have now reverted to pre-Covid extreme poverty guidelines. As a result, previously enrolled families who once qualified for the program now find themselves deep in debt for their kids' school meals. 

As the New York Times reported in January, 

 It is difficult to estimate how many students are now going hungry. But school officials and nutrition advocates point to proxy measurements — debt owed by families who cannot afford a school meal, for example, or the number of applications for free and reduced-price meals — as evidence of unmet need.

  In a survey released this month by the School Nutrition Association, 96.3 percent of school districts reported that meal debt had increased. Median debt rose to $5,164 per district through November, already higher than the $3,400 median reported for the entire school year in
 the group’s 2019 survey

Older people and those on disability who have received enhanced SNAP benefits for the past three years now stand to lose an average of $300 a month in aid. Vulnerable recipients who relied on Instacart and other shopping services to purchase food, so as to avoid catching Covid, will not be able to afford to do so come March - not on a monthly food allotment of, in some cases,  only $18.

Meanwhile, the craven people who run the place are busily trying to make us forget about their own cruelty by creating yet another outside enemy for us to hate and fear. The latest deflection is a giant Chinese balloon, which Joe Biden bravely shot down over the weekend with a guided missile off the South Carolina coast, and whose remains are being heavily guarded by the Navy for our protection.

They really think we're idiots. So even if their xenophobic, saber-rattling propaganda doesn't work, they can at least try to starve us into submission and make us too weak to take to the streets in protest.

As centenarian Henry Kissinger ever so wisely instructed the ruling class: "Control oil, and you control nations. Control food, and you control the people."

Bleak House, USA (Mervyn Peake)

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Shocker: #Russiagate Is a Big Fat Fraud

*Updated below.

As much as the US government has been infiltrating and pressuring both the corporate media and social media platforms in a fear and censorship campaign to soften up Americans for its proxy war on Russia, we're now learning that some Twitter executives, at least, were disturbed enough to feebly push back against the overreach. 

In Twitter Files #15, journalist Matt Taibbi reports that the Hamilton 68 Dashboard's list of hundreds of Twitter accounts, supposedly run by "Russian bots," is mainly comprised of innocent human users. The contrivance of an USAID-funded bipartisan think tank called the Alliance For Securing Democracy, the Dashboard has been a prime source of disinformation for such outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC,  CNN, and MSNBC. Even so-called "fact-checking" sites have treated the specious Hamilton Dashboard as a bona fide source of information for the relentless parade of anti-Russia media reports over the past several years.

Although it's long been obvious, to  some of us anyway, that the McCarthyite dashboard of dangerous Twitter accounts was pure fake news propaganda, Twitter itself was able to discern that they were, in fact, mostly legitimate accounts from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. But its executives apparently were too cowed by the "Deep State" operatives who  persistently browbeat them into censorship compliance at the time to blow the whistle publicly. Taibbi was finally granted access to the true identities behind the list of "Russian bots," and has proceeded to notify many of them of their dubious distinction as designated Kremlin plants and stooges.

“I think we need to just call this out on the bullshit it is,” Taibbi quotes Twitter Trust and Safety Chief Yoel Roth as having written when the fraud was first proven beyond a doubt. 

“The selection of accounts is… bizarre and seemingly quite arbitrary,” wrote Roth. “They appear to strongly preference pro-Trump accounts (which they use to assert that Russia is expressing a preference for Trump… even though there’s not good evidence any of them are Russian).”

Even Twitter execs were stunned to read who was listed. The names ranged from well-known media figures like David Horowitz to conservatives like Dennis Michael Lynch and progressives like Consortium editor Joe Lauria. It’s crucial to understand that the list captured not just Trump supporters but a range of political dissidents, including leftists, anarchists and humorists. Wrote policy chief Nick Pickles, upon seeing the name of British satirist @Holbornlolz:

“A wind-up merchant,” he wrote. “I follow him and wouldn’t say he’s pro-Russian… I can’t even remember him tweeting about Russia.”

These people never knew they were used for years to drive hundreds if not thousands of media headlines about supposed Russian bot infiltration of online discussions: about the Brett Kavanaugh hearingsTulsi Gabbard’s campaign, the #ReleaseTheMemo affair, the Parkland shootingDonald Trump’s election, the #WalkAway and #IStandWithLaura hashtags, U.S. missile strikes in Syria, the Bernie Sanders campaign, the “Blexit” movement to peel black voters away from Democrats, calls to fire National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, “attacks” on the Mueller investigation, and countless other issues.

Read Taibbi's whole piece for more on the neocon/neoliberal personalities involved with the Hamilton Dashoard fraud, along with reactions from some of their many unwitting victims. One Dashboard fraudster that Taibbi doesn't mention is Jake Sullivan, who is currently Joe Biden's national security adviser and a chief architect-cheerleader of the Ukraine-Russia proxy war.

Both the think tank running the Hamilton Dashboard propaganda scam and the Twitter managers who eventually uncovered the scam were well-stocked with other future Biden people, many of them alumni of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Taibbi writes:

...Twitter is not guiltless. Though people like Roth wanted to go hard at the fabulists — “My recommendation at this stage is an ultimatum: you release the list or we do,” he wrote — ultimately people like future White House and National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne advised caution. “We have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly,” she wrote. Carlos Monje, future senior advisor to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, concurred.

“I also have been very frustrated in not calling out Hamilton 68 more publicly, but understand we have to play a longer game here,” Monje decided.

Taibbi is expecting neither media nor political class culprits to be held accountable for the fraud, given that Twitter execs already did privately warn both complicit Congress members and media people to steer clear of the Hamilton propaganda as a source of their news and information. Don't look for any mea culpas from anybody in the halls of political and information power for their own roles in this massive deceit of the public.

As I wrote here nearly four years ago, the Hamilton 68 fraud, designed to grease the skids for their desired war on Russia, uses the same m.o. that the media-political complex sold to the public as the casus belli for the illegal invasion of Iraq:

The initial public acceptance of the invasion of Iraq, as well as the "belief" of the majority of polled subjects in Russian meddling in the presidential election stays alive thanks largely to the process of amplification.

The first part of the conflict-creation recipe involves bellicose think tanks and defense industry-beholden politicians planting scary stories in the mainstream media, whose stenographers graciously grant the planters anonymity due to the "sensitivity" of the situation and fears that national security will be threatened if the public gets too much detailed information  The second step is for the warmongers to then point to these planted stories as proof positive that they are full of facts, the actual details of which must unfortunately be withheld to protect the interests of the planters. These two steps are like yeast. They make the disinformation cake rise and rise.

This is what former Vice President Dick Cheney did in 2002.  His office fed New York Times reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon the "scoop" that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium from Africa and using it to build nuclear weapons. Then Cheney went on Meet the Press and pointed to the New York Times as his proof that Saddam did indeed plan to attack the US.  To give the disinformation an added dose of verisimilitude, "investigative" reporter Miller even went to jail for a time to protect the powerful sources of the false information. Rather than out herself as a stenographer, she made herself a martyr - until the whole scam fell apart, and she lost her job at the Times'

Now, with another manufactured debt ceiling crisis rapidly approaching, it might be a good time to remember that the gaslighting Hamilton 68 fraudsters had also blamed Russia for the shutdown mess in 2018, and that all legitimate Twitter criticism of the hapless Senate leader Chuck Schumer came not from independent-thinking Americans, but from the Kremlin, which had stealthily infiltrated the brains of Americans!

Current New York Times columnist Lydia Polgreen had just (temporarily) migrated to the Democratic veal pen known as the Huffington Post from her previous top post at the Times when the former unquestioningly and breathlessly reported:

#SchumerShutdown has surpassed #ReleaseTheMemo as the highest trending hashtag among Russian influence campaigns. They seized on that hashtag earlier this month in an effort to pressure Republican lawmakers to release a classified memo written by House GOP aides that allegedly describes abuses in FBI surveillance practices. Conservative organizations like Breitbart and the Daily Caller have given major coverage to the memo, but Democratic lawmakers have denounced it as deeply misleading.

Alliance for Securing Democracy tracks activity from 600 monitored Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations. It has found that Russian bots and trolls frequently amplify content attacking the United States, conspiracy theories and misinformation.

As I'd reported at the time:

Coincidentally (of course) Twitter has just sent emails to 677,775 users informing them that they were being monitored for the thought-less crime of having read and/or shared tweets from Kremlin propaganda mills.

Also, totally coincidentally, HuffPo has just sent its own emails to its entire stable of unpaid freelance contributors informing them that their "content" would no longer be accepted. This  includes all content from writers like Joe Lauria who dare to express healthy skepticism that RussiaGate has any basis in reality, or that endless war might not be in the best interests of humanity.

  HuffPo editor Lydia Polgreen, late of the New York Times, told the New York Times that she's banned the messy, noisy, free-thinking bloggers so as to "declutter" the site and give more room to quality journalism, such as, presumably, the pro-war propaganda provided by neocon think tanks.

Guess who one of those Hamilton Dashboard-identified Russian bots turned out to be?

Why, it was Joe Lauria, the current editor of Consortium News, which is critical of the war and surveillance policies of the United States. Matt Taibbi has Lauria's reaction at the above-linked Twitter Files article. Lauria was disgusted, but not all that shocked.

Even though the Hamilton Dashboard has been completely discredited,  thanks to the last bastions of independent journalism still standing, it will doubtlessly be reborn under a different name, in another think tank, another corporate newsroom, another corrupt politician beholden to the war racket and to the interests of the oligarchy. 

All that we can do is keep chipping away at their various pathological disinformation campaigns, and shooting all the disinfecting sunlight at them that we can. Since they have no shame, they will never go away quietly or voluntarily. 

*Far from it, actually. In a detailed rebuttal of Taibbi's revelations, the Alliance for Securing Democracy website pleads that its critics were either taking their dashboard way too seriously, or else all those stupid journalists, Twitter executives and doubters of all stripes were themselves irresponsible in the way that they used it.

The dashboard’s original methodology acknowledged that “the content within the network is complex and should be understood in a nuanced way.” Members of the media, pundits, and even some lawmakers often failed to include appropriate context when using the dashboard’s data, despite ASD experts’ extensive efforts to correct misconceptions at the time. Because the data was consistently misunderstood or misrepresented, we published multiple follow-up instructions clarifying key points, including: “Some accounts we track are automated bots, some are trolls, and some are real users. Some are in Russia, but many are not”.

This, of course, is the same kind of techno-legal babble used by many dishonest players whenever they are caught out in a crime or a scam.  For example, the Justice Department could not possibly prosecute Wall Street after the 2008 financial collapse, because the complex financial instruments of the experts could  never be understood by mere mortals. As a matter of fact, some of the same malefactors who precipitated the crisis in the first place were often elevated to government positions, the better to sort everything out while absolving themselves, if not outright proclaiming themselves saviors. If anyone was to blame, it was those greedy people who took out subprime liar loans on houses they couldn't afford.

The Alliance  fatuously adds that they (unlike, they insinuate, Elon Musk and Taibbi) were sensitive to their victims' privacy rights and never "doxxed" the people whose Twitter accounts ended up on their dashboard. It's the "shoot the messenger" ploy all over again. They try to change the topic from their own bad behavior to the worse offense of the leaking of their own bad behavior.  What the people whose accounts were linked to Russia didn't know didn't hurt them, the Alliance asserts. How could anyone possibly construe that the Dashboard was a McCarthyite blacklist, when they only linked Twitter accounts to Russian influence, and were not directly responsible for anybody losing their job or getting de-platformed as a result. All they really did was warn other people to beware of the provenance of the listed accounts. And Twitter did it too, sending its users those thousands of emails warning them of certain suspicious accounts they had been reading.

The whole disclaimer is just another layer on a disinformation cake puffed up with a very generous helping of enriched gaslight. These people not only have no shame, they've severely overdosed on their own chutzpah.