Monday, April 27, 2015

Obama's America

I'll admit that by titling this post as I have and tying it to the riots in Baltimore I'm running this risk of being misunderstood. First of all, lets keep what's happening in perspective. Compared to the LA riots after the initial Rodney King trial, or the many conflagrations that consumed American inner cities during the 1960s, what happened today is like a firecracker going off next to a keg of dynamite. A few cops got injured, a few stored got looted and few cars were burned. By comparison, the LA riots resulted in 53 deaths and over 2000 injuries.

Secondly, I have no doubt that there are plenty of white bigots and racists who are already blaming the president for what they are seeing on their teevee screens. And while I agree with them that a large share of the blame DOES reside with our feckless commender-in-chief, it certainly is NOT for the reasons they think: namely that this is all part of the "socialist-communist-muslim" Obama's "plan" to "undermine" America and turn it over to the Islamic State...or something equally ridiculous.

No, Obama deserves much of the blame for plenty of other reasons. It was, after all, his 2008 campaign that raised the hopes and dreams of black Americans and led them to foolishly believe that having one of their own in the White House would mean they would finally have someone in a position of high power who understood the very real institutional barriers still preventing them from achieving economic parity with whites. It was Obama himself who then deliberately sold out those hopes and dreams by not lifting a finger to help black America (or anyone else who isn't rich) once in office. Obama's administration has presided over an even greater spread of wealth inequality between the rich (mostly white men) and everyone else (blacks included), and his so-called economic recovery has benefitted only about the top 10% of the population, while the lower 90% finds itself more economically stressed than at any time since the Great Depression. Obama has also greatly contributed to this country's culture of violence and the idea that settling disputes requires guns, bombs, missiles and predator drones aimed at non-whites overseas who refuse to to accept American hegemony over the planet.

But finally and most importantly, Obama and his administration has stood around with its thumb up its ass while police killing incident after police killing incident has occurred without any attempt to have his Department of Justice forcefully step in with aggressive civil rights prosecutions--as Daddy Bush did after the Rodney King trial not guilty verdict. Time after time, from George Zimmerman to Darren Wilson and now on to a steady onslaught of cases, cops and cop wannabees have been killing young black men in cold blood without being punished while Obama has done nothing except for what he's best at--running his fucking mouth. Conversely to what the racists and bigots think, it is my contention that Obama's presence in the White House actually served as a distraction that PREVENTED this kind of rioting from breaking out sooner. Eventually, however, as incident after incident unfolded the pressure was going to inevitably increase to the boiling point.

In his seventh year in office, we have reached the point where Obama's America is finally approaching maturity. Thanks to the hopes he raised in order to con his way into the Oval Office and his complete subservience to a corporate America he no doubt hopes will make him a very rich man upon leaving office (as it has the Clintons), the fault lines that were already there are deepening and widening ever so slowly to the point where we are now feeling the first minor tremors presaging a potential future major earthquake that will shake our body politic to its foundations. For awhile now those tremors could be heard in the increasingly hateful right-wing rhetoric being employed against blacks, gays, Muslims and the poor. And as of today, they can now be seen in the looted stores and burning police cars dotting the streets of downtown Baltimore.

Bonus: "There was a shooting...police on my back"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Robert Reich Tells a Late April Fool's Joke About Hillary Clinton

This late April Fool's joke by former Labor Secretary and "liberal firebrand" Robert Reich is so funny I really did laugh out loud:
Which brings me to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility.

Some worry she’s been too compromised by big money – that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor.

But it’s wrong to assume great wealth, or even a social circle of the wealthy, is incompatible with a deep commitment to reform...
Oh please Robert, stop it, I don't know how much more I can take. And just how is Queen Hillary supposed to show her "commitment to reform" anyway?
So we must resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act and bust up the biggest banks, so millions of Americans don’t ever again lose their homes, jobs, and savings because of Wall Street’s excesses.

Also: Increase taxes on the rich in order to finance the investments in schools and infrastructure the nation desperately needs.

Strengthen unions so working Americans have the bargaining power to get a fair share of the gains from economic growth.

Limit the deductibility of executive pay, and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Oppose trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership designed to protect corporate property but not American jobs.

And nominate Supreme Court justices who will reverse “Citizens United.”
Oh fuck it, I'm not laughing any more. I'm not laughing because it is obvious that Robert Reich is being a duplicitous piece of shit. Reich knows damn well which president signed the repeal of Glass-Stegall: Bill Fucking Clinton. And Reich was IN FUCKING OFFICE as Labor Secretary when Bill Fucking Clinton signed the first two major "free" trade agreements, NAFTA and GATT, into law. And he surely knows raising taxes on the rich or the federal minimum wage will be a total non-starter with the Republicans in charge of one or both houses of Congress. Not to mention that Reich cannot possibly believe that Hillary can get elected without mucho donations from Wall Street and big corporations, the spurning of which would likely put her at least a billion dollars behind Jeb in fundraising.

Some of you may think I'm being unfair to poor ol' Robert Reich. Yet I truly believe he is not a stupid man. Therefore, the only explanation I can come up with for why he wrote this particular piece of drivel is that he is lying through his teeth in order to give his delusional liberal/progressive audience false hope. Sadly, he is hardly alone in that regard.

Bonus: "Let 'em eat cake," she says...just like Marie Antoinette

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mad Men and the "Death of the American Dream"

During my recent illness I became a huge fan of two vastly different television shows, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, that each in their own way do a fantastic job of showing just how empty the pursuit of the "American Dream" really is. Breaking Bad's Walter White becomes unhinged after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and decides to use his remaining time alive cooking meth in order to build the fortune that eluded him in the straight world and that he felt he deserved. Mad Men paints with a broader brush (though there are key similarities between Walter White and the latter show's Don Draper), but at its heart are a group of characters--ad executives in the 1960s and their supporting office staff--whose lives become ever emptier even as they come to enjoy more and more material success.

The final seven episodes of Mad Men are just now being broadcast, and while watching the premier last Sunday the first thing that struck me was that the characters now find themselves in 1970, the year conventional American oil production peaked. I doubt Matthew Weiner, Mad Men's creator, took that particular factoid into account while setting up the show's conclusion, but given how many electrons have been annoyed in cyberspace by various writers analyzing the show's portrayal of the perils of pursuing material success just for success's sake, the ending taking place the year America's organic "material success" was peaking is quite relevant.

Don Draper--the dirt poor impostor who changed his identity and hustled his way to a partnership in a major Madison Avenue ad agency--has been described by Weiner as having grown up "one generation away from living without plumbing." My father just turned 80 this year, making him only a few years younger than the fictional Don Draper, and he has described to me how his father--a World War I veteran--lost his small trucking business in the early 1930s and then subsequently dragged the family all over the Midwest desperately searching for a way to recapture that tiny bit of the pie he had managed to slice for himself. Eventually he would settle for a factory job back in my hometown, but losing that chance to become a big shot-- even in a small pond--left him emotionally broken for the rest of his life.

One of the ongoing story lines in Mad Men involves Don's relationship with his estranged teenage daughter, Sally, and how he has a hard time trying to figure out why she's so unhappy despite having every comfort he never had growing up. On the show Sally Draper represents the Baby Boomer generation, the first to be raised with television and, not incidentally, to be bombarded with the ads Don and his cohorts so intensively labor developing. Sally may be too young to yet participate in the rat race (or to be the trophy wife of a successful businessman as her shallow and vain mother wants her to be), but her's is the first generation to be brainwashed from the start by media advertising, leaving her unable to recognize that that fancy new designer purse she just bought at Macy's will not make her any happier.

As Mad Men draws to a close, it will no doubt bring some sort of closure to the story arcs of its major characters. But the big picture it has spent seven years of broadcasts painting will in fact be only halfway completed. The second half of the story is unfolding in our current times, at the back end of the lifespan of the fictional Don Draper (assuming he like my father is now living out his golden years in the sort of retirement that became the middle class American ideal but for which only that generation on the whole ever got to enjoy). Draper and my father grew up one generation removed from living without plumbing. As a baby boomer and an elder Gen-X'er, Sally Draper and I were among the first to grow up expecting that a limitless cornucopia of consumer goods would always be available at our fingertips--assuming we were willing to either climb on the big treadmill or marry someone really successful so that we could afford it.

Sally Draper's children, however (I do not have any of my own) and especially her grandchildren are going to be the ones who find out just how big the lies her father told for a living really were. Mad Men has been very good at portraying just how the pursuit of the American Dream can consume a person's soul. What Mad Men will not be showing is what happens when the resources needed to support the kind of lifestyle being sold by Don Draper start running out. Sally Draper's grandchildren are likely going to be the first since Don Draper's parents to discover what it is like to live without plumbing...and they'll be LUCKY if that's as bad as it gets.

That's the show that is playing out in real life every day right now. I doubt if 50 years from now anyone will be putting it on television--or that that most people will have the time to spare from just trying not to starve to watch it if they did.

Bonus: "Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary"

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Brian Williams: The WORST Kind of Liar

If as the old adage goes, "the worst kind of liar is the one who thinks he's telling the truth," then Brian Williams is the worst kind of liar. We little people rarely get to peak behind the facade of what the late, great Joe Bageant called: The American Hologram, so we usually don't have any idea just how much the blow dried airheads who get the paid big money to go on teevee and spout the empire's propaganda are actually in on the joke. The funniest aspect of the current predicament of suspended NBC anchorman Brian Williams is that his likely downfall will come as the result of telling lies--and that the lies that have put him in such deep shit are of such little consequence compared to the ones that tumbled out of his mouth every fucking night he stepped into the NBC "news" studio.

Williams's public persona was always as one of the least objectionable members of the propaganda ministry in that he seemed just as at home trading good natured barbs with Jon Stewart and Conan O'Brien as he did reading bullshit from a teleprompter. But the real Brian Williams was exactly the kind of asshole who, despite becoming massively wealthy while holding down one of the most coveted positions in all media, just HAD to make himself out as some sort of Rambo action figure. Not content to just sit on the sidelines lines cheering on "the troops," he decided he had to BE one of them, or at least to make people believe he is his generation's Ernie Pyle--dodging bullets and artillery fire right there with the grunts on the front line.

All that was bad enough, but yesterday Vanity Fair posted a story in which Williams is finally revealed to be the worst kind of liar--a man so soulless and devoid of personal awareness that he fervently believed that not only was he not a liar, but that he is in fact INCAPABLE of lying:
Within NBC, Burrough writes, Williams floated an even more absurd and cowardly explanation (bolding ours) for his prevarications:

“[Williams] couldn't say the words ‘I lied,’” recalls one NBC insider. “We could not force his mouth to form the words ‘I lied.’ He couldn’t explain what had happened. [He said,] ‘Did something happen to [my] head? Maybe I had a brain tumor, or something in my head?’ He just didn’t know. We just didn’t know. We had no clear sense what had happened. We got the best [apology] we could get.”
As my readers well know, I've spent the last two years battling and then recuperating from pancreatic cancer. During the seemingly endless hours I spent attached to a IV line pumping those horrid chemotherapy chemicals into my body, I once had the very upsetting experience of watching a young man of about twenty being brought into the clinic in a wheelchair, then picked up by an orderly and placed in a nearby chair. He was completely bald, and had lost most of his motor skills--including the ability to speak intelligibly--thanks to a massive tumor that was slowly eating away at his brain. Relatedly, a good friend of my wife just recently lost her husband (and father of their 10-year-old son) after a five year battle with brain cancer that at the end left him bedridden, helpless and in constant excruciating agony.

THAT is the kind of thing that usually happens to a person who has a brain tumor, Brian Williams, you disgusting egomaniacal piece of shit. For 11 excruciating years you were paid countless millions of dollars by America's oligarchical elite to spew whatever lies they wanted you tell to keep the dimwits who foolishly believe that any kind of truth will be broadcast on a network formerly owned by a giant defense war contractor; paid for by advertisements on behalf the country's biggest corporations docile. For you to compare yourself to people who are suffering and dying one the most miserable forms of death there is to be had in this world to me makes you a far bigger scumbag than comparing yourself to soldiers from a mercenary army fighting a one-sided war.

Take your fucking money and crawl back into whatever hole it was you climbed out of, and may we all be spared from ever again having to abuse our eyeballs with your hideous visage.

Bonus: Dedicated to Brian Williams--just another "fevered ego" that is tainting our collective unconscious

Monday, April 6, 2015

Will the Elites "Save" the Democratic Party?

It should be no secret that the Democratic Party is in deep shit. The 2014 midterm elections were a major disaster, and the party is about one stock market crash between now and November 2016 away from losing the White House as well. Despite all the drivel you hear about Republicans' supposed long term demographics problem, it is the donkeys who seem to be heading towards if not extinction being reduced to a regional party--only politically viable in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Upper Midwest and West Coast and a smattering of college towns in between. Their are four main reasons for this:

1). Outside of presidential races, Citizens United is allowing Republicans to clobber the Democrats in fundraising.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will likely have similar war chests when they face off against each other next year as their respective parties' presidential nominees. That's because there are enough Wall Street and big business types who either still lean Democrat in presidential campaigns, or who hedge their bets by giving to both parties at the national level, to blunt the effects of Citizens United. But at the state level, where as John Oliver recently pointed out the real lawmaking is going on in this country these days, conservative billionaires like the Koch Brothers and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce have figured out that they can get a much bigger bang for their campaign donation bucks, as it were.

The Republicans have already successfully gerrymandered Congressional districts in enough states that in 2012 the party retained their majority in the House of Representatives despite the facts that the Democrats won a plurality of the congressional vote (49% to 48%). Only 18 current state governors are Democrats. Most tellingly, Republicans control BOTH houses of the legislature in 33 of 49 bicameral states (Nebraska's legislature is unicameral and at least nominally nonpartisan)--even in such supposedly "blue" states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. In most of the states they control, their numbers are overwhelming (in Indiana for example they occupy 71 of 110 house seats and 40 of 50 Senate seats).

2). Young people have figured out that the Democrats do not represent their interests.

In 2008, record numbers of people in the 18-29 age group voted--and most of them voted for Obama. Their excitement and enthusiasm was palpable, and they really believed that President Hopey-Changey would cure America's many social ills and fix the deck that had very much become stacked against them. By 2012, however, Obama may have still gotten their votes but their level of enthusiasm for him had visibly waned. That election was decided more by television advertising than though armies of college-age kids volunteering and knocking on doors. By the 2014 midterm elections, Obama's abandonment of his base had caused so much cynicism that the young voters who had been so motivated to see him get elected largely stayed home--and the Democrats got annihilated.

3). Ambitious young politicians have recognized that the Republican Party is where the action is.

First, let's recognize who the loathsome Ted Cruz really is: the latest heir to Joseph McCarthy's political legacy. Like old "Tail Gunner Joe," Cruz has been clever enough to realize that providing the media with liberal-baiting sound bites is the easiest way to get ahead quickly in Washington--especially in the Fox News era. To take another example Michelle Bachmann, a back bencher of no distinction, was able to become a powerful force to be reckoned with in the House of Representatives (while reaping the considerable monetary benefits that go along with that power) by making a media spectacle of herself. And there are plenty of others who strive to follow the examples of Cruz and Bachmann.

Young Democratic congresscritters, on the other hand, lack a tailor-made media outlet like Fox News. So instead they have to be content plodding along for many years building up seniority behind fools like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, hoping that one day they can land a committee chairmanship (a longshot for the party these days, especially in the House) or a leadership post. All along the way they have to be careful they don't get targeted for defeat--which is hardly a recipe for the kind of risk taking that vaults one into the spotlight.

4). The Democrats' focus on identity politics is a dead end.

Quick question: what party does the only current black U.S. senator represent? That would be the Republicans, natch--and more incredibly he's a teabagger from South Carolina. Meanwhile, lilly white Utah not only elected a black congressWOMAN, but she's the daughter of Haitian immigrants. South Carolina and Louisiana are run by Republican Indian-American governors. The last Republican president named the first black and then a black female as Secretary of State (and gave us the first Hispanic attorney general), and key conservative national firebrands of this past decade (Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman) have been women.

The point is that the Republicans have learned that finding ambitious non-white, non-male useful idiots to run for office is not all that difficult, and that their troglodyte base will actually vote for such people if they spew enough hateful rhetoric and Fox News tells them to. Through this strategy, the Republicans are increasing their percentages of the minority vote just enough to counterbalance the perceived demographic disadvantage that results from old white bigots dropping dead right and left. Viewed in this light, the party's efforts at voter suppression are not only overkill but are actually counterproductive because they allow the Democrats to play the racism card.

Speaking of the racism card, given that the Democrats have sold out to big business and Wall Street and their record on economic and foreign policy issues has become virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans, that is really the only card they have left. Hillary's hope to win the presidency is that women voters in particular will be excited enough at the prospect of one of their own ascending to the White House that they will overlook her long and dismal prowar, pro big business record.

But say Hillary does win in 2016--what happens going forward when the reality sinks in that she is every bit the liberal/progressive sellout that Obama is? The Democrats will have already given us the first black and first female presidents. With the Republicans putting forward more and more diverse faces (even if they are touting policies that reinforce the control of the same old white male oligarchy), America's supposedly liberal party will have NOTHING left to run on to distinguish themselves from the GOP.

If I were your standard liberal/progressive editorialist, I might try to con you into believing that what I just wrote above opens the door for a truly leftist populist third party to emerge and sweep the Democrats from the stage. But I have more respect for the intelligence of my readers than to ever try and convince you that such a thing is possible or that Skittle pooping unicorns do in fact exist (yes, I believe it is POSSIBLE that change could happen at the state and local levels were the left motivated to do anything more than just futilely protest once in awhile, but I do NOT believe it WILL happen).

Nonetheless, the elites NEED the Democrats to maintain the illusion that American still has a functioning democratic system. What will happen if, say, Jeb wins in 2016 and the Republicans score the magic filibuster-proof Senate majority of 61? How will they then plausibly explain their inability to roll back Obamacare, or to start a war with Iran, or to close the borders against all immigration as so many in their base want them to do? Not to mention that they will then be responsible for ALL of the bad shit that happens to the country as the realities of resource depletion and environmental degradation slowly bite harder and harder, and won't have the Democrats to "kick around any more."

All of this will be moot for at least four more years if Hillary wins in 2016 and the status quo of "gridlock" on the national level and the real work of enacting laws to strip the remaining wealth from the middle class and working class continues to quietly happen at the state and local levels, but if Jeb is the winner this could become a real appearance problem for the oligarchy. They'll quickly need to find another Obama, an ambitious young climber with a decent liberal record not only willing to sell out all of his or her principles but also able to get up in front of the party base and shamelessly lie repeatedly and effectively. I don't see such an individual on the political horizon right now, but there has to be at least one talented young sociopath out there who would be willing to audition for the role.

Bonus: The Ballad of the American voter

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Even Walmart Knows that Homophobia is Bad for Business

Almost everybody is familiar with the demographic marketing phrase: "the key 18 to 54 age group." As if every human being over or under that age range is somehow less valuable. Well, they are actually--at least to corporate America. The first half of that age group is supposedly when young adults form the brand loyalties and shopping habits that they will retain for a lifetime, while the latter half are in their prime earning (read: consumption) years. This is why marketing for most products other than dietary fiber supplements, incontinence garments and mobility scooters are slick, flashy and heavy on the "coolness" factor. Given a choice between possibly offending older consumers versus cementing brand loyalty of the 18 to 54'ers, most companies figure that while granny may indignantly chuck a slipper at the screen, she's unlikely to change her 50-year love of a particular breakfast cereal brand as a result.

All of this is a long winded way of explaining why Walmart shocked a lot of people when it came out strongly against the Arkansas religious "freedom" measure that was very similar to Indiana's. It was one thing for Apple to condemn the Indiana law--Apple presumably has lots of gay and lesbian customers and the bigoted old white fuckers who support these shitty discriminatory laws aren't likely to ever understand how a smartphone works, let alone ever buy one. But the stereotype is that Walmart customers are exactly the kind of Fox News watching, assault rifle totin,' Jesus lovin' morons who would applaud a law like this. After all, to cite another common but probably not completely inaccurate stereotype, your average gay couple's tastes in home furnishings do not likely run to the kind of clapboard crap on display at Sam Walton's megastore hellholes--nor would they ever want to be caught dead wearing the sweatshop assembled, ill-fitting polyester dress shirts hanging on the clothing racks.

Walmart probably could have stayed quiet regarding the proposed Arkansas law. After all, no one was ASKING the company for its opinion. The fact that it chose to say something represents an obvious awareness that younger Americans, even those less financially well off, on average tend to be more socially tolerant than older ones. Young adults today are far more likely to have friends who are openly gay than their older cohorts. Walmart just found a free way to get the best advertising it could have in the form of news stories that will make little Brandi and Justin feel better about shopping there so they will hopefully develop a lifelong habit. After all, what are Bessie and Elmer going to do, stuck as they are on a fixed income and living in a trailer with no savings account, suddenly boycott Wally World in favor of Nieman Marcus?

So let's all get our warm and fuzzys about this shining example of good corporate citizenship without getting all wrapped up in the truth of the matter, which is that if they didn't think it would help improve their bottom line the greedy fuckers who own and run Walmart wouldn't have said jack shit. And let's not ponder the day when predatory megacorporations like America's biggest retailer have finally destroyed the livelihood of average Americans to the point where even most gay and lesbian couples have no choice but to shop there whether they like it or not.

Bonus: "Indiana wants me--but I can't go back there"

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

America is Truly the Exceptional Nation

Looking back upon the last few years, it really is amazing just how great things are going in America these days. President Obama has turned out to be a combination of Abraham Lincoln and FDR. Not only has he done more for black people from the Oval Office than any president since the Great Emancipator, his economic record has been right up there with the New Deal as the best thing that's ever happened to working class and middle class Americans. If you don't believe me, look at all the outstanding recent job creation numbers. The Obama record on foreign policy has been nearly as successful. Not only did he turn Afghanistan into a stable democracy, but Iraq is peaceful and prosperous and life in Libya is so much better since Obama helped depose their evil dictator.

Based on his record I am convinced that Obama's visage should be etched in stone atop Mt. Rushmore as the fifth president to be so honored. In fact, when his likeness is rightfully installed up there they should make sure they paint the rocks to match his skin tone. What better way to remind future generations of the incredible wisdom Americans showed in 2008 by making him our first ever non-white president.

Obama's legacy would be best reinforced with the election next year of Hillary Clinton, who is by far the best qualified of all the likely candidates. Not only was she a fantastic Senator and the best Secretary of State we've ever had, but she already has eight years' worth of White House experience as First Lady. In fact, I'll give you my own personal campaign moniker for election 2016 right now: "You Know the Drill, Now Vote for Hill."

Hillary could face a tough challenge in the form of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who admittedly is one of the wisest and most level-headed statesmen I've observed in my lifetime. Besides, he's a Texas politician who attended two Ivy League schools, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with a resume like that one? Cruz is likely to be challenged for the nomination by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has been the best friend to the working man his party has seen since his own state's legendary Senator Robert "Fightin' Bob" LaFollett Sr., who once said: "No free people in history very long maintained their political freedom after having once surrendered their industrial and commercial freedom."

Of course, all of these good times would not be possible without some good old fashioned American know how and ingenuity. Thanks to the ingenious entrepreneurs in the fracking industry, American oil production has increased so much that we are once again energy independent and no longer need any oil imports at all. With gasoline prices plummeting, every American should do their patriotic duty and go out and buy the biggest SUV or pickup truck they can find--it's great for the economy, after all.

Yes, it feels so exceptional to be living in such exceptional times in this truly exceptional nation. Now if y'all will excuse me, I'm going to go out and get one of those big ass American flags that platoons of soldiers carry onto football fields during the national anthem so I can bring it home and drape it over my house.

Bonus: Exceptional times require an exceptional song

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Looking More and More Like 2016 Will Be a Reverse Replay of 2008

It would be perversely amusing if what will likely be by far the most expensive presidential election campaign ever is actually decided by an outside factor completely out of the candidates' control. As it stands now, just over 19 months away from the November 2016 balloting, the final stages of the Obama administration look to be eerily similar to that of the Bush administration before it. Like Obama, at this point in his presidency Bush faced an overwhelmingly hostile congress, which greatly limited his ability to maneuver on domestic and economic issues. Like his predecessor, Obama is also hoping that an impending crash in an important segment of the economy (fracking this time versus housing under Bush) doesn't take the stock market down with it and thus destroy his party's chances of retaining the White House after his departure.

Poor Hillary. If the likely 2016 matchup pitting her against Jeb were to happen tomorrow she'd likely win. The higher turnout and lack of gerrymandering in presidential races favors the Democrats, and there are plenty of women voters who will be energized by the thought of placing one of their own in the White House despite the fact that her record indicates that she will be even less sympathetic to the concerns of the Democratic base than Obama has been. But all she can do is desperately hope that Obama is able to keep the illusion of recovery going long enough to avoid another stock market crash before the election.

Back in 2008 John McCain was actually gaining ground on Obama despite the albatross of Sarah Palin hanging around his neck. He nearly pulled even in the polls just in time for the bottom to fall out on the market, taking his chances to win the election down with it. A similar occurrence this time around would almost certainly be enough to tip the balance Jeb's way.

The Democrats will no doubt shriek about all of the horrible things another Bush presidency will bring, especially in combination with a Republican controlled Congress. In reality, however, a Jeb presidency will likely not be a radical departure from Obama--just as Obama has largely steered the same course as Jeb's idiot brother. Take the possibility of war with Iran, for example, as one issue in which there would appear to be a huge difference between the parties. The true elites who run this country seem to sense that even airstrikes on Iran would likely be very bad for business. Thus, even he though he will be pushed into sounding warlike while stumping for the nomination to appease his party's neocons, President Jeb would likely continue Obama's strategy of negotiation--no matter what Bibi and his fifth column allies in Congress might want.

The biggest laugh will be if under a Jeb presidency repealing Obamacare suddenly disappears as a Republican Party priority. No doubt the party will make a show of TRYING to repeal the supposedly hated "socialist" program, but damn if those 40-odd Democrats in the Senate won't magically be able to thwart them for Jeb's entire term by placing a seemingly permanent filibuster on all repeal attempts. If Fox News suddenly stops talking about Obamacare after Jeb is elected, you'll know the fix is in and the program won't be going anywhere.

At this point, I'm leaning towards rooting for a Jeb victory just because it will be so much fun to watch Hillary being ultimately thwarted after compromising every principle she ever had as a former antiwar 60s radical, swallowing her pride and staying with Bill after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, whoring herself out to Wall Street as a New York senator and then having her 2008 electoral ambitions derailed largely because of her "Yes" vote on the Iraq War. Wouldn't it be just awesome to see her snap during her concession speech and start to strangle Bill on live television?

That last part would never happen, of course. But a lonely blogger can dream, can't he?

Bonus: "God save the queen--she ain't no human being"

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Thousands Protest in Indiana--Should Have Been Paying Attention Earlier

"First they came for the unions, but not being a union member I did not stand up. Then they came for the black people, but not being black I did not stand up. Then they came for the gays...and I realized that maybe I should have been paying attention earlier."

So once again, there are protests in the streets decrying massive injustice. This time, it is in the form of thousands of people waving signs in downtown Indianapolis decrying the passage of a horrendously discriminatory bill against the rights of gays and lesbians allegedly in the name of "religious freedom." Just like the 2011 pro-union protests in Madison, Wisconsin, and last year's post-Michael Brown shooting protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the protestors have a legitimate reason to be aggrieved. Nevertheless, I would still like to ask the them one simple question: how many of you got involved in the midterm election campaigns for your state representatives last year and, relatedly, how many of you actually bothered the vote in said elections?

Because I just went and checked the voter turnout and saw that only 30% of Indianan registered voters even bothered to show up at the polls. In addition, you cannot tell me that the voting records and political views of the cretins in the state legislature who voted for this horrendous, pandering law were not easily available before now.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of whining, complaining and protesting the better strategy would be to organize, get your own people on the ballot, resist the corrupting overtures of the Democratic Party (form your own third party would be my advice) and beat these fuckers at their own game. Again, I realize that national and even statewide elections are so rigged by the big money as to be virtually hopeless. But the bigoted, opportunistic assholes who created and voted to pass this law by and large won their seats with only a few thousand votes. They CAN be defeated.

But no...have fun instead chanting your chants and waving your signs. It's all just sound and fury, signifying nothing. It'll feel good for a few days--kind of like watching an episode of The Daily Show or Real Time with Bill Maher. Then most of you will no doubt go home to your iPads, iPhones and 500 channels.

And that law you hate so much will still be on the books.

Bonus: "Breaking rocks in the hot sun"...indeed

Friday, March 27, 2015

Crisis, What Crisis?

As I've stated before on this blog I pay next to zero attention to American teevee news, particularly the cable news channels. It was only because I was at the gym on Wednesday trying to rebuild the considerable amount of muscle mass I lost after my cancer surgery last year that I even saw (up on the overhead screens) how CNN was reporting on the overthrow of the government of Yemen. There was the tired old visage of Wolf Blitzer, with the screaming headline CRISIS IN YEMEN affixed in front of him.

I had my Ipod on, so I have no idea what Blitzer was saying nor do I give even the tiniest fraction of a shit. It just amused me as it always does to see the American propaganda machine in action. Interesting how we are always told that Americans have no interest in what is going on outside their own country--which has been used as a justification to close down foreign press bureaus in capital cities around the world--yet when there is a coup in a country that probably less than 5% of Americans could even find on a map it suddenly makes huge headlines.

Why would that be? But of course it would be so that yet another armed group that's decided it has had just about enough of American hegemony and interference where they live can be demonized--thereby justifying the continuance of the war on terror and America's absolutely insane levels of defense war spending. The only place on U.S. soil where current events in Yemen represent a "crisis" is in the "exalted" halls of Washington's foreign policy establishment, which has just seen another one of its brilliant plans for world domination turn into utter shit.

I would almost certainly bet that Blitzer did not mention the U.S. role in deposing Yemen's previous long time president back in 2012. Blitzer may have said something about all the the predator drone strikes employed against "Al Queda" in that country, but I would bet a decent amount of money that he did not make the connection for his viewers between the wanton killing being done by U.S. missiles and the understandable popular anger that helped lead to yet another American client government being unceremoniously shown the door.

Crisis? How exactly is the situation in Yemen a "crisis" to the average American--the same dumbass American who as I've been pointing out on this blog is too ill informed and apathetic to even have an effective voice in his/her own municipal governance. Americans compliantly allow their own mayors, city councilmen/women and state representatives to fuck them up the ass on a regular basis on behalf of their wealthy paymasters, and yet our alleged number one source of "news" focuses their attention and odium towards the latest group of predatory creatures to be in charge over in Aden. Aden? Who or what the fuck is Aden, anyway?

The only thing that would make the hyping of this story more perfect was if rather than Yemen the country was instead called Eastasia.

Bonus: "Once again, I was watching CNN and they blew up all the anxiety"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The "Mafia" Has Gone Legit

HBO's John Oliver hit another one out of the park this past Sunday with a brilliant rant on municipal fines and the predatory private companies that are now profiting on the backs of our poorest citizens (video embedded below). Watching it, I was reminded of some passages in Gus Russo's book, The Outfit, about the history of organized crime in Chicago, in which he makes a strong comparison between "the underworld" and "the upperworld" and how most of the great American "legitimate" fortunes were made either by using extortionist tactics similar to those of the mafia or through actual organized crime connections.

Russo cites a quote from robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, then one of America's richest men, who confessed that: "You don't suppose it is possible to run a railroad in accordance with the statutes, do you?" He also cites the example of John Factor, brother of cosmetics baron Max Factor, who began his business career with a huge, multimillion dollar white collar scam in his native Great Britain, then fled to America an became involved in the Chicago mob in the 1930s. Factor not only avoided extradition thanks to mob influence, at one point with mob help he actually faked his own kidnapping in order to send a business rival to prison for 20 years. Eventually, he ended up running a Las Vegas casino for The Outfit. Late in his life, Factor tried to obscure his criminal background with many philanthropic efforts, and actually broke down in tears when asked by a reporter about his various unpunished crimes. "How many good deeds does a man have to do to erase his past?" he reportedly sobbed. Old Joe Kennedy was probably wondering the same thing right after his son was assassinated.

The point to all of this is that in this age of the war on terrorism, the mafia doesn't make many headlines anymore. That's partly because the FBI and Department of Justice did such an effective job during the 1980s and 1990s of smashing traditional organized crime, particularly the legendary "five families" in New York. But it is also in part because the primary activities the mob made its money on (gambling, loansharking) are now legitimate businesses in the form of widespread casinos and payday lending operations, and because labor unions have been so effectively neutered that they are no longer the cash cow they once were.

As Oliver points out below, incredibly another common mob practice has not only been legalized but is now being perpetrated by private companies on behalf of municipal governments. The video features the victims of legal shakedowns, indigent minor offenders who often ended up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in "late fees" because of their initial inability to pay their fines. Difference being that these shakedowns are backed by the threat of imprisonment rather than the target having an arm or leg broken. In fact, Oliver doesn't explicitly make the connection but it is likely that the people shown in his video were not only being shaken down by these private "probation companies" but were also ensnared by legal loan sharks--taking out car title or payday loans in a futile effort to keep paying the ever escalating "vig" on their tiny original fines (last year, Oliver also attacked the payday loan industry--see second embedded video below).

Oliver ends the video with a brilliant point that the "right" to "pursue happiness" should also include the right to fuck up every once in awhile with getting fucked by your own government, or privately hired goons acting on behalf of your government. Of course, rich people already enjoy that right. Robert Durst has been in the news a lot lately, but to me the most astonishing aspect of his case was his acquittal on murder charges after he killed and dismembered his neighbor. Only someone with the millions to afford to buy the best legal defense possible could ever hope that a "self defense" defense could possibly be successful in such a situation.

This is all happening because of a phenomenon I cited in my last post: namely voters in this country idiotically paying the closest attention to the one election that has the LEAST importance to their daily lives and which their vote has become utterly meaningless (for president), and paying the LEAST attention to the elections that not only have the most effect on their daily lives but in which a relatively small number of them could in most cases actually change the outcome (for state and local officials). Now all we have to do is convince them to turn off American Idol (how is that POS show still drawing high ratings after 14 excruciating years?) and get them involved politically in their own communities. Yeah, right...good luck with that.

Bonus: Why does it take an Englishman to so deftly point out what is going wrong in America (Part 2)

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Continued Liberal Reluctance to Point the Finger of Blame Where it Really Belongs

In the past two days, two editorials were published that do a reasonable job of summing up some very disquieting new American political realities. The first, entitled "Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life," by Anthropoly Professor David Graber of the London School of Economics, uses the recent Department of Justice report as a centerpiece to show how local governments are increasingly becoming predatory institutions, using the criminal justice system to financially squeeze those at the lower end of social ladder on behalf of the big banking institutions:
The police, then, are essentially just bureaucrats with weapons. Their main role in society is to bring the threat of physical force—even, death—into situations where it would never have been otherwise invoked, such as the enforcement of civic ordinances about the sale of untaxed cigarettes.

For most of American history, police enforcement of such regulations was not considered a major source of funding for local government. But today, in many municipalities, as much as 40% of the money governments depend on comes from the kinds of predatory policing that has become a fact of life for the citizens of Ferguson. How did this happen? Some of it, of course, has to do with populist anti-tax movements, beginning with California's Proposition 13. But much of it has happened because in recent decades, local governments have become deeply indebted to large, private financial institutions—many of the same ones that brought of us the crash of 2008. (In Ferguson, for instance, the amount of revenue collected in fines corresponds almost exactly to that shelled out to service municipal debt.) Increasingly, cities find themselves in the business of arresting citizens in order to pay creditors.
In this light the killing of Michael Brown can seen in a much different way, one in which Darren Wilson may not have acted as an out of control racist cop but instead as a glorified bill collector with a gun who overreatced when Brown forcibly refused to be exploited financially for the "crime" of walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk. It is very possible, even likely, that Brown's death was due as much to the greed of the big banks as it was to an institutionally racist police department and citizen apathy.

Graeber goes on to write:
Almost every institution in America—from our corporations to our schools, hospitals, and civic authorities—now seems to operate largely as an engine for extracting revenue, by imposing ever more complex sets of rules that are designed to be broken. And these rules are almost invariably enforced on a sliding scale: ever-so-gently on the rich and powerful (think of what happens to those banks when they themselves break the law), but with absolute Draconian harshness on the poorest and most vulnerable. As a result, the wealthiest Americans gain their wealth, increasingly, not from making or selling anything, but from coming up with ever-more creative ways to make us feel like criminals.

This is a profound transformation, and one we barely talk about. But it is rapidly altering people's most basic conceptions of their relations with society at large.
Fair enough. But before I comment on Graeber's conclusion, I want to move on to antiwar writer Tom Engelhardt's latest essay, entitled: The New American Order--
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of "We the People."
The premise of Engelhardt's essay is that American governance is entering a new era that is so dominated by a tiny oligarchy that it makes the Gilded Age of the late 19th century look like the late 1960s by comparison:
Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.
Engelhardt then goes on to make his point much more than just "minimally," and actually concludes by saying:
In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.
I'm not really sure who Engelhardt is addressing with that last sentence. Certainly, if your deep down far enough in the weeds of awareness to be reading his blog (or this one, for that matter), you're probably not in denial that something has gone horribly wrong in this country. But it might be because Engelhardt has deluded himself into thinking that he has a greater audience reach than he does and is NOT just preaching to the choir that he starts out so tentatively and, like Graeber, fails to address the really big question of exactly who is to blame for this state of affairs.

Engelhardt dances around the question, citing the influence of big money on politics, particularly after the Citizen's United decision, the supposed "demobilzation" of the Democratic Party and the effects of voter suppression laws. Graeber doesn't assign any responsibility at all, which I guess means that the profound changes he so earnestly documents in his essay have just fallen out of the sky. It's a common affliction of liberal essayists to either cop out by blaming "wealth inequality" for America's political ills or to want to avoid discussing the subject altogether. Because to cite the real problem is to admit that the ignorance and stupidity of the little people they so desperately wish to "save" are in fact the root cause of the very trends that are destroying our so-called democracy from within.

Engelhardt reports that the amount of money spent on the 2014 midterm elections was over $4 billion and that the 2016 presidential race alone is expected to top $5 billion--up from just over $2 billion in 2012--without mentioning that the overwhelming majority of all that campaign cash will be used to buy television advertisements. The days of door-to-door canvasing and get out the vote efforts are as forgone as the need to raise lots of money from small donors in order to have a viable campaign.

Consider the above, and now consider for a moment the level of discourse included in your average 30-second campaign commercial while recognizing that despite their sheer imbecility they are what decide our national elections. The reason for that is simple--the average American voter is so uninformed or misinformed that they either base their voting decisions on the messages they receive from such simple-minded ads or upon the fact that they see more far more ads for one candidate than they do the other.

For state and local elections the problem is far worse. As I cited in my previous article about the Ferguson DOJ report, only 12% of the registered voters in that community bothered to turn out for the last mayoral and city council election and the mayor ran unopposed. And as John Oliver points out in the brilliant rant below from his HBO show, over 1,000 state legislators ran unopposed in 2014--around than 25% of the total. Additionally, if Virginia politics which I follow are at all typical of the other 49 states, even in those instances where an incumbent state legislator or local official does draw a challenger it is rare that the race is even remotely competitive.

All of this is only possible in a system in which the citizenry has collectively abdicated its basic responsibility to stay well enough informed for representative democracy to function. It is true that the rich and powerful have a vested interest in keeping the citizenry distracted through their control of the mass media, but Americans seem particularly eager to allow themselves to be distracted and to thus become effectively disenfranchised from having any voice in their own governance.

Bonus: Why does it take an Englishman to so deftly point out what's going wrong in America?