Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pointless Thought Of The Day

Solitaire is like life. You play it alone, you lose most of the time, and even when you win isn’t that great.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Incompetent Elites

In a letter to a friend, Alexander Hamilton once wrote, “The American people have all the passiveness of the sheep and all the folly of the ass in their composition.” I happen to agree with this sentiment, but not because I think the people are innately stupid or weak ( Hamilton also referred to the people as “a great beast”). Rather, sixty years of consumer capitalism has conditioned them be passive and ignorant. They have been subtly and relentlessly brainwashed by the most sophisticated propaganda organ in history, namely, the modern advertising industry.

As I write, the people of every country in the world are rapidly descending to the same level of stupidity and ignorance as their American counterparts. We just happened to get there first because America is the most advanced country in the world. Case in point: When I studied in Russia, my instructors lamented that “kids today” no longer read Pushkin and favored American TV shows instead.

At any rate, the other Founding Fathers more or less agreed with Hamilton, and the government they created was carefully designed ensure that only the best sort of people, meaning rich white men like themselves, would rule. They would have defended the system by telling you that governing should be the responsibility of educated men with enough leisure time to study politics and who could therefore make rational and informed decisions. Somewhat conveniently, that meant rich white guys exactly like themselves, because nobody else in the eighteenth century had any education or leisure time at all (although many people were allowed to drink beer on the job, the lucky sots!).

The people, on the other hand, were ignorant and susceptible to irrational hysteria and prejudices. If they were given too much power, they might do crazy things, like chop the heads off the rich and steal their property! No, it was much better to have intelligent elites run the show.

So how has it worked out? Let’s see. Intelligent elites, knowledgeable people who went to the best schools, studied the issues, and can be trusted to make wise and informed decisions about matters that are beyond the comprehension of the common folk, have given us: VIetnam, bank deregulation, and the wise and far-sighted policies that produced the blowback of 9/11. They responded to that by giving us the USA Patriot Act — an hysterical, paranoid over-reaction if there ever was one, the kind of thing the irrational masses might do if left to their own devices! And, of course, our expert elites, in command of all the facts and utilizing the soundest judgment, gave us the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.

It was the slickest, sharpest, most well-fed and well-educated brains in the US that introduced the world to sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps. Their brilliant maneuvers created the conditions that ruined the world economy and are gradually turning the country into Burkina Faso.

It seems to me that the unwashed masses aren’t the ones driving stupid and dangerous policies. The biggest fuck-ups of the last fifty odd years have been the result of the calculated and deliberate policies of our most eminent and well-qualified elites.

Is it possible we need to re-think this situation? Do you think we need to change this paradigm? Is it possible, to paraphrase a prominent elite fuck-up, that the model of how we think the world should be organized is wrong?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Workers Get Screwed, Market Rises

Let’s take a little trip through the business section of today’s New York Times and see what we can learn, shall we? (The link is here, but I’m working from the paper copy so the articles are arranged differently).

 On the first page, we are greeted with the following headline: “Regular Bills, Irregular Work: Unsteady Incomes Are Keeping Millions Behind on Bills, And Undermining Savings.”

It tells us that seventy million people are underemployed, and that most of their jobs are part-time or seasonal and only pay shit wages. As a result they are falling behind on their bills and slipping into poverty. Apparently this is some kind of big surprise to the business reporters at the New York Times. To most of us, this story is about as revelatory as a headline that reads: “White Officer Kills Unarmed Black Man And Gets Away With It, Again.”  

Economists call this situation “income volatility,”which is the best euphemism I’ve heard since the invasion of Grenada was referred to as a “pre-dawn vertical insertion.”

Let’s move on to item number two, right next door on page one: “Study Finds Violations Of Wage Law In 2 States.” It turns out that some noble job creators in New York and California are cheating their workers by not paying them the full minimum wage. The study finds that “more than 300,000 workers in each state suffered minimum wage violations,” and “if one assumes a violation rate half that nationwide, that would mean two million workers across the nation were paid less than the federal or state minimum wage.” Brace yourselves for another shock. Most of these workers are in the “restaurant and hotel industries, educational and health services, and retail and wholesale.”

So we’ve got marginalized part-timers living in chronic anxiety and despair, and downtrodden service workers getting ripped off by employers who are too fucking cheap to pay them seven dollars an hour.

Meanwhile, the news on B10 tells us that “Economic Data Lifts Market to New Highs.”
 The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 7.78 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,074.33. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.07 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,912.62. Both indexes closed at nominal record highs.
“Things are better than you think,” an economist says. Boy howdy!

The very next article has even more good news. It tells us that the US economy is “resurgent” because 208,000 jobs were created in November. But, it cautiously adds, “wages continue to lag.”

I’m not an economist, but I think this might have something to do with the fact that most of those new jobs were created in the service sector, where, as we were just informed, people are only hired on a part-time basis and many are blatantly being ripped off. But growth trumps income volatility in America, so be happy.

So let’s condense these stories into a single headline: “Workers get criminally screwed, stock indexes rise.”

Next up, David Brooks, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and the rest of their sheltered and myopic little tribe will wonder why the people are so disgruntled in spite of these hopeful statistics. All the charts and models and graphs say they should be happy, but they aren’t. What gives? David Brooks will call his sociologist friends to get to the bottom of this weird cognitive dissonance. What will he come up with, I wonder. Lack of meritocratic virtue among the working class?No grit? No capacity for delayed gratification? Unrealistic expectations? Your guess is as good as mine, and it won’t matter a bit because it will all be bullshit anyway.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trikle-Down Conservatism

Republicans have thoroughly captured our political discourse.  Right wing dogma has trickled down to the lowest depths of our society and saturates the very air we breath, so much so that your average, everyday, non-political working Joe accepts conservative talking points as truisms: cutting taxes creates jobs; we need a president who will run the country like a business; public employees and illegal aliens are living like Russian czars on the tax payer’s dime; global warming probably isn’t happening. On the other hand, Democrats are bad for small business and want to raise taxes, and they are weak on foreign policy and soft on crime to boot.

You know the drill. Everyone does. It is the incessant background noise of our political lives. It is relentless and inescapable. It never sleeps. It is forever hounding and haranguing us from day clean to dusk. Every barber, mechanic, grocery clerk, cab driver and garbage man in the country can stand on one foot and recite the entire conservative catechism before you can say “low-information voter.”

Why is that? Why is the Republican world view the default position of so many people, even non-political people? Because that’s all they hear. They aren’t exposed to any cogent counterarguments. When things go bad, people latch on to whatever ideas happen to be circulating around. It just so happens that the ideas swirling around our culture are thoroughly and unabashedly right-wing.  

I live in a poor area. There is a thin strata of granola eating hippy liberal types, but the most common demographic is poor working class whites. They mostly work in the service sector and the construction trades. Most of them don’t think about politics much at all. Some are outright  rednecks. In general, their thoughts don’t venture beyond the immediate concretes of their environment: work, eat, drink beer, screw, buy lottery tickets, fantasize about sports cars, sleep. But bring up a political topic, any political topic, and the response you’ll get is pure Bill O’Reilly.

These people should be agitating for higher wages, unionization, universal health care. In short, they should be the natural constituency for a genuine populist agenda. But they aren’t, because no such agenda is on the radar, and the fault lies squarely with the Democratic party.  

The leadership of the Democratic party doesn’t believe in a genuine populist agenda. They sold it out for corporate cash and now they don’t have a moral leg to stand on. Since they have no true convictions, they can’t develop a sincere and appealing core message to compete against the Republican propaganda machine. They are greedy, weak and corrupt, and they get their asses whipped by tin horn lunatic bullies who, if nothing else, have the virtue of at least sounding like they believe in something.

If the Democratic party can’t manage to beat a clay eating dolt like Joni Ernst, what use are they as a political party?  

Say what you want, the conservatives push and fight for a set of beliefs. The fact that these beliefs are thoroughly noxious and will turn the country into third world oligarchy is beside the point. The important thing is that they fight and the Democrats don’t. The Republicans are out on the street swinging knives and bicycle chains. The Democrats stutter and sputter like Elmer Fudd about grand b-b-b-bargains and entitlements c-c-c-cuts, and b-b-b-bipartisanship. And please don’t call them liberal, it hurts their feelings and they won’t get invited on Meet the Press anymore.

 Mr. Laid-Off construction worker sits on his porch drinking Natural Ice and wondering what the hell happened to his life. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly take the time to tell him. What they say is dangerous and ignorant nonsense, mind you, but bad explanations are better than no explanations at all. They give him tangible reasons for his woe and hold up targets for his rage.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, ever fearful of offending their corporate donors and Wall Street pay masters, wiggle around in search of “market friendly” solutions to our malaise. It hasn’t worked. It doesn’t work. It never will work. But don’t expect Hillary’s campaign strategists to figure that out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

It's election day. Let's see, which candidate for the Senate do I want to represent Goldman Sachs? Oh, I know, the one who favors gay marriage. I feel so empowered living in a democracy!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Opie Does Guantanamo

I just can’t get over Obama’s statement the other day: “We tortured some folks.”
We tortured some folks.  Is that okay? Does anything about that strike you as wrong? Do you find that phrase as jarring as I do? I’m not the slightest bit surprised we’ve tortured people. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.  And I’m glad Obama used the word torture and didn’t hide behind some bullshit euphemism like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But there is still something grotesque about that sentence and none of the articles I’ve read mention it. In fact, a lot of the commentary makes the same mistake. What am I talking about? Let me show you by way of a brief illustration:
“Say, Harlan, what er y’all doin’ down there?”
“Hey, Hollis, not much. We’re just down here torturin’ some folks.”
“Good deal. You been torturin’ a lot of folks lately?”
“Got a new shipment just last week. Around here we call that job security.”
“You must be doing somethin’ right.”
“We’re doing a lot of things right, and we’re torturin’some folks.”
“Good deal. Say, Loretta wanted me to invite you over tonight for some pie, but I don’t want to bother you if you’re too busy torturin’ folks and all.”
“Shoot, Hollis, you know I can always take a break from torturin’ folks for some of Loretta’s rhubarb pie!”
See what I mean? Using “torture” and “folks” in the same sentence isn’t just bad style. It’s a slimy way of soft-peddling bad behavior. Folks don’t really hurt folks. There are just folks doin’ the stuff folks do, and if they occasionally make mistakes and accidentally harm folks, well, most folks don’t mind. Least ways not around here in America, where folks know how to forgive and forget.

It’s even worse when you consider that Obama’s whole statement is aimed at letting the torturers off the hook. How? They were just folks!
“It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama said. “A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots. But having said all that we did some things that were wrong,” he said. “And that’s what that report reflects.”
It’s important that folks don’t put on airs and become sanctimonious about the good folks at the CIA, who are just workin’ hard to keep us folks back home safe. You get the idea. And don’t for a second think this effect is incidental. People torture people. Folks are jes folks, tryin’ their hardest in this gosh durn crazy world. People have faces that express pain. Folks are just, well, folks, an abstract mass of sunny beings in a fundamentally benign universe. You’re a folk. I’m a folk. The vicious sadist who pours water up the nose of a naked man upended on a gurney is a folk too, and folks will honor his service when he gets back from the wars. 

This harmless politician’s word is, in fact, a nasty little euphemism that absolves the guilty and coaxes us into forgetting the victims. 

Susan Jacoby in The Age of American Unreason admirably bashes this annoying — and potentially dark — habit that modern presidents have acquired. She invites us to insert the word folks into some famous American locutions and observe the effect. Thus we we get government of the folks, by the folks and for the folks. Folks have nothing to fear but fear itself. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for folks to dissolve the political bands which have connected them …

It reduces every statement, no matter how important, to the level of a speech at a Mayberry city council meeting. It puts everything on the same bland, hokey plane, whether its Enlightenment philosophy or defending odious criminals like John Brennan. It invites our brains to stew in a warm puddle of blueberry compote while slithery careerists like Brennan turn the country into something dark beyond all recognition. 

Mayberry, my ass. This country is Rome under the Emperor Caracalla, an unloved and unlovable military despotism whose best days were long over, never to return; a tottering wreck of its former self incapable of building anything more edifying than a giant bathhouseNo folks around there, and none around here neither.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Telegenic Dead

Someday there will be a hardcore band called the “Telegenic Dead,” and the world will have Benjamin Netanyahu to thank for it. Apart from that, the world won’t have anything else to thank the rotten SOB for. His epitaph should read, “I was a bigger dick than Cheney.”

I would have thought the term “telegenic dead” referred to people like Pat Sajack and Ted Koppel, or Cokie Roberts or Peggy Noonan, but I guess not. It turns out that in this, as in so much else, I was (untelegenically) dead wrong. The term refers to a class of people, many of them children, who just willed themselves to be dead so Hamas could use them as propaganda. Imagine the deviousness of that! And there are so many of them too, around 1400 and counting, although to these unpracticed eyes they don’t appear too telegenic. But who am I to say? I’ll freely concede that Netanyahu is better at judging the relative pulchritude of mutilated dead bodies than I am.

But I can sympathize with the problem. Americans have had some trouble with telegenically dead Arabs too. We discovered that the only effective solution was not to show them on TV at all. It works like a charm.  No doubt the Yemenis are propping up a few telegenic dead right now, foolishly thinking we’ll see them here in America and be shamed into no longer killing them. How little they know, those poor naive people. If they weren’t all terrorists who hate America it would almost be cute.

You might occasionally get some pain in the ass reporter who wants to dig deep, tell the truth and all that other outdated horseshit. But we put him in combat fatigues and let him play soldier by embedding him with troops. That usually shuts them right up. It’s like giving chocolate milk and Play-Doh to a five year old. They just love it!

What the Palestinians have always needed was a highly telegenic living leader. Someone with charisma and oratorical skill. Someone genuinely committed to non-violence who could credibly take the moral high ground. Someone like that might turn the tide of American public opinion and force the US government to change course. But Martin Luther King isn’t available, so that option is probably out. But there is hope.

Note to Palestinians: Find some young, attractive Arabs, preferably educated in the United States and fluent in American English, to hit the airwaves and spread your message. They have to be hip and naturally conversant in American popular culture, but they must also be mature. Above all, they have to be westernized and secular. They have to be instantly recognizable as good guys to Mr. and Mrs non-passport holding American. They cannot be scary-ish foreigners who call suicide bombers martyrs. Nor can they be strident radicals glaring at the screen and shouting cliches like “By any means necessary.”

They must not chant puerile slogans reminiscent of American protesters on their first weekend away from mommy and daddy’s house. Here are some ground rules that must be observed: The “Hey Hey, Ho Ho” construct has got to go, forever. Serious adults with a serious purpose don’t sing nursery school rhymes. College students looking for attention do. Serious adults looking to be taken seriously comport themselves with dignity. Two. Code Pink and their juvenile theatrics must be absolutely forbidden to put in any appearance whatsoever. They have never understood the simple fact that if you look and act like a clown you will be treated like one. They set any cause back twenty years. If they did not exist the FBI would invent them. Three. The second somebody shows up with a “Free Mumia” sign the cause is lost, utterly and irretrievably lost. You may as well bring Arafat back from the dead with his sunglasses and combat fatigues. The negative effect on the American public wouldn’t be any worse.

American radicals are utterly tone deaf to these things, which is why they miserably fail to persuade the American public about anything. Avoid their mistakes. Be hip, but be articulate and mature. The Israelis know how to do this. Watch them and imitate their methods. You can win.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Always Expect More Of The Same But Worse

I’m creating a formula that can be used to make predictions in American politics. So far, it goes something like this: You take the status quo, add the dullest or most uninspiring possibility, and that is the most likely future outcome. In other terms, SQ + MUP = LFO (where MUP is Most Uninspiring Possibility and LFO is Likely Future Outcome).

When we apply this simple formula to reality, we can easily envision the following plausible scenario: Chief of Staff Lanny Davis and Secretary of the Treasury Rahm Emmanuel convince President Hillary to nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. That way, the court maintains its current balance and a liberal critic is effectively gagged. Wall Street is happy and progressives are out. See how easy that is?







Sunday, July 13, 2014

Why I Don’t Cry For Israel, Or Palestine

The other night, the grumpy old man I’m destined to become made his first appearance in my life. Somebody was watching the nightly news, and the hairdo on screen was affecting that grave tone  they reserve for Very Serious Matters, like announcing celebrity deaths.  In this case, though, it was nothing so earth shattering. He was just talking about the latest round of fighting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But something in me suddenly snapped. A surge of bile rose out of my guts, and the voices of all the grouchy old farts from every American Legion Hall in the country spoke as one from my larynx: “Fuck ’em all,” it said. “Both sides can kill each other off for all I care.

A few minutes later the anchorman, whose name I’ve tragically forgotten, dropped his Edward R. Murrow reporting from London during the Blitz persona and became, as if by magic, a fountain of sunshine and levity as he talked about LeBron James returning to Cleveland. But it was already too late. The damage was done. The scowling reactionary at the bottom of my soul roamed free all evening long.  I spent the whole night yelling at the dog and fighting the mysterious urge to buy all of Jesse Ventura’s books.

(Just kidding. I never yell at the dog.)

(I only yell at the cat.)  

I don’t really think that way, of course. I abhor violence and don’t want anybody to be hurt, not even people who deserve it. I could suffer the likes of Dick Cheney or Jamie Dimon to endure a few strokes of the lash, or maybe a week or two in the stocks so people could walk by and spit on them, but that’s about it. I don’t want innocent people to be harmed or killed. I sympathize with the Palestinians and think Netanyahu is a war criminal.  If I had three wishes that could come true, world peace would be third on the list.

There. I said it. Now you can chuck those sentiments in that overstuffed folder labeled, “Things I Believe That Make No Fucking Difference.”

Netanyahu could be herding Palestinians into gas chambers and it wouldn’t matter as far as U.S. policy is concerned. Both presidential candidates would still go groveling to AIPAC to convince them that Israel is their BFF, and that under their presidency Uncle Sam will never take the car keys and the credit cards away.

The media narrative in this country, with few exceptions, would still be all about gallant little Israel, oasis of democracy in the Middle East, nobly fighting wicked Arab terrorists, whom all good Americans know are ipso facto our enemies as well, even when they aren’t.

I happen to think large numbers of Americans don’t buy that narrative. I think a lot of people are sick and tired of Israel. I think a lot of them would gladly tell Israel to stick it where the moon don’t shine. But you can put those sentiments in an even larger file labeled “Yet Another Issue Where the U.S Government Ignores Public Opinion.” Here, as in so many other instances, what we think doesn’t amount to a piece of rat shit. U.S. policy is a foregone conclusion no matter what we do. 

After a while you just stop caring. You shrug your shoulders, give up, and realize the only rational thing to do is focus on matters closer to home, like figuring out how to pay the rent in a “jobless recovery.” Hence the outburst. Hence the angry old man. So the Israelis and the Palestinians are at it again, huh, just like the dysfunctional alcoholic couple across the street who have been fighting over the same stupid shit over and over again for the past two years, world without end? Well, what the hell do you want me to do about it? Give me my hot cocoa and get off my lawn, dammit.

(I don’t really yell at the cat.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rolling Coal

Some upstanding citizens on the right have come up with a cute new way to stick it to the EPA, Obama, and all those liberal fairies who drive Priuses. It’s called rolling coal, and it pushes the frontiers of stupidity towards whole new horizons. In fact, it pushes them towards the event horizon, which is the point where objects get sucked into black holes and no light can ever escape.


Guys, for just about five hundred dollars you can trick out your diesel truck so that it burns more fuel, spews more pollution, and shows the world that you’re opposed to big government tyranny. It also helps beat back the pain of acute penis envy and repressed homosexual urges. What have you got to lose? Step up and make a statement!

(h/t Boat Bits)