Archive | Worshipping Mammon

It takes a village of ‘experts’ to craft Hillary’s spiel

Swamp Rabbit explains Hillary's quandary regarding income inequality

Swamp Rabbit ponders Hillary’s income inequality quandary

The headline — “Economic plan is a quandary for Clinton ’16” — was provocative. The lede was downright bizarre:

With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.

“She’s betwixt a rock and a hard place,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Ain’t gonna be easy to solve that there quandary.”

“The poor are being cheated because of laws that are too favorable to the wealthy,” I said. “At this point, the wealthy should understand this. It doesn’t take 200 experts to state the obvious.”

I wondered why I felt so worked up about Hillary’s campaign strategy. Then I remembered I’m one of the poors, living in a shack in the Tinicum swamp with an alcoholic rabbit. It galls me that she is trying to successfully mimic Elizabeth Warren’s call to correct income inequality, but without endorsing any of Warren’s remedies for the problem.

“She’s just another Democrat trying to win without changing the status quo,” I said. “She’d rather alienate millions of poors than risk alienating her hard core of wealthy campaign contributors.”

The rabbit shoved some twigs in the wood stove and looked at me funny. “What’s so odd about that, Odd Man? If wealthy people quit givin’ her money, how’s she gonna afford all them experts that tell her how not to piss off the wealthy?”

Pope Francis vs. Bill Maher, pope of snark

Pope Francis in the PH

Poor Pope Francis, cast into eternal darkness by comedian Bill Maher, host of Real Time and unofficial head of the Church of the Latter Day Snarks:

“I was starting to really like this pope,” Maher said during his monologue on Friday. “He’s dead to me now. Oh yeah, f*ck the Pope. Look, George Bush said it: you’re either with us or against us. Apparently the Pope is not with us.”

Maher was disappointed that the Pope said religion should be off-limits for insults at the same time that he condemned the attack against the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 12 staff members killed.

I say, f*ck Bill Maher. He prides himself on being politically incorrect but his knee-jerk rejection of ideas that clash with his point of view is just the opposite — politically predictable. His snarky act has gotten old.

I don’t agree with Pope Francis on this one — no institution should be “off-limits for insults” — but most of his other social criticisms are on target. Bottom line, he always takes the side of the poor against the obscenely wealthy, the oppressed against the oppressors. Which is more than you can say for Maher and his fellow limousine liberals, who have more in common with hardcore Republicans than with progressives.

Credit where it’s due: Swamp Rabbit just reminded me that Maher’s golden moment as a social critic came soon after 9/11, when he told Middle America that people who crash airplanes into skyscrapers are anything but cowards — that we were the cowards for “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” “Now that was politically incorrect,” the rabbit said.

Correction: When Francis became pope, I thought he’d turn out to be another corrupt figurehead who wore funny hats. I was wrong, except for the hats.

Seeking disaster’s bright side in Atlantic City

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, or Eric Idle in Life of Brian. He always looks on the bright side of life, even life in Atlantic City, which has been in a downward spiral for years thanks to corrupt and incompetent public officials and casino executives.

In his State of the City speech this week, Guardian argued that A.C. could get back on the winning track by diversifying its economy instead of continuing to depend almost entirely on revenues from crumbling casino businesses. Fittingly, Guardian made his speech in the ballroom at Caesars, whose parent company had just filed for bankruptcy protection.

Smart people warned A.C. to diversify decades ago, to make it more “family-friendly” before casinos became legal in nearby states and drew away a large percentage of the gamblers. It didn’t happen. Four of 12 A.C. casinos went dark in 2014, throwing thousands of people out of work. Gaming revenues have shrunk to almost half of what they were eight years ago. You might say Guardian is planning radical surgery for a patient who’s already been wheeled to the morgue — unless you look on the bright side.

Give the mayor credit for a good pep talk, even though he hit a sour note when he said, “At least we are not Detroit.” This was like saying we are not London during the plague years, or Dresden after the fire bombs.

Atlantic City is many times smaller than Detroit and should have been much easier to fix. It has a beach and a boardwalk and an ocean, and it once had legions of chumps journeying from far and wide to blow their money on games of chance. It was a test case for the argument that legalized gambling was a good way to jump-start depressed communities.

So much for that argument. Casinos care about casinos, not communities. When they can no longer plunder, they run.

‘Abundance with attachment’ is right-wing doubletalk


Swamp Rabbit and I huddled next to the wood stove and pored over a cheery Christmas article by economist Arthur C. Brooks, who wants people to make an attitude adjustment regarding possessions. He urges readers to “collect experiences, not things,” and to “steer clear of excessive usefulness” meaning don’t make it a rule to do only those those that are a means to some practical end. And to “get to the center of the wheel” — to belief in something that transcends wealth and fame and other temporal joys.

“Who’s this here article for?” the rabbit said. “I ain’t got nothin’ in the world but a head of lettuce and that bottle of Wild Turkey you give me for collectin’ this here firewood.”

“He wrote it for the one percenters who feel guilty about their piggishness and want to be absolved,” I said. “He takes it for granted that all of his readers are wealthy, or close to it.”

I pointed to the one instance in the New York Times article where Brooks mentions Americans who don’t fit his target demographic: “For those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion.”

“I don’t know anybody ain’t livin’ paycheck to paycheck, or without no paychecks at all,” the rabbit said. “What planet is this guy on?”

“It’s not so much a planet as an alternate universe,” I said. “The other 99 percent of us don’t exist in his universe, unless there’s a need for babysitters or someone to clean the windows.”

I told the rabbit that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose boosters include Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. This helps explain why he writes things like “Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide” instead of mentioning that income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1970s. It’s why he focuses on the angst of the affluent rather than on the millions in the world who can’t make ends meet, despite their so-called bounty.

His message is that the well-off should embrace their possessions without becoming “attached” to them, because all things must pass. It’s a contemporary version of Billy Graham-style Protestantism, with the same underlying message: Enjoy your wealth but praise the Lord. Throw a bone to the poor to confirm you are unselfish and worthy of heaven. Fight big government efforts to feed the poor, that’s socialism.

“He’s part right,” the rabbit said. “You can’t take it with you. Ain’t it obvious?”

“What’s not obvious is his agenda,” I said. “He pretends to be turned off by the commercialization of Christmas but he’s a crusader for the free-market capitalism that has made Christmas so ugly. He pretends he has transcended materialism in order to advance it. ‘Abundance without attachment’ is a bullshit expression, a contradiction in terms. I’d like to punch him in the face. His editor, too.”

“Get a grip, Odd Man,” the rabbit said, reaching for his bottle. “A couple of hits of this will take the edge off.’

I could smell the bourbon as soon as he broke the seal. “I might take you up on that,” I said. “But I’m afraid I might become too attached to the stuff.”

Jesus and the prosperity gospel

This month, I’ve been reading biblical scholar Reza Aslan’s fascinating “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”, and highly recommend it. One of the things that really got my attention was how he described the political uproar of Jesus’ time, and the deep wish for a political savior. Sounded a lot like the Tea Party!

Aslan said his favorite representation of Jesus was from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and then pivoted to the issue of the prosperity gospel.

“The fastest growing Protestant movement in North America is this movement that is referred to as the prosperity gospel,” he said. “This is the gospel preached by people like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes — and when I say people, I mean charlatans. The argument of the prosperity gospel, if I can put it flippantly, is that Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley. That is basically what the argument is. That what Jesus wants for you is material prosperity, and that if you literally give, you will literally be given tenfold. That’s not a metaphor, as it is in most churches. It is literal. You give me $10 and Jesus will give you $100.”

“This is as profoundly an unscriptural interpretation of Jesus that exists,” Aslan remarked. “I mean, if there is one thing that is just so clear cut and just not open to interpretation at all of any kind when it comes to Jesus’s message, it is his condemnation of wealth.”

“And yet, not only does this version of Christianity exist, as I say, it is honestly the fastest growing version of Protestant evangelical Christianity in North America. That’s because Jesus can be whatever you want him to be, and the Christian message can be whatever you want it to be.”

Earlier in his speech, Aslan said that Jesus advocated an “absolute reversal of the social order, in which those on the top and those on the bottom will switch places,” citing Luke 6:20-26.

Porn flick about Comcast would be called ‘Insatiable’

Swamp Rabbit and I were reading that Comcast, the nation’s No. 1 cable provider, has bought out Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 provider. I wondered aloud what’s become of the Federal Communications Commission, the outfit that is supposed to prevent media corporations from establishing monopolies that exploit consumers. And where is the so-called Department of Justice? These questions are at least as old as the 1980s, when Ben Bagdikian wrote The Media Monopoly.

“The FCC done got neutered,” the rabbit said. “I been livin’ in this swamp for years, but I know that. Where you been?”

Good question. I try to keep up with change, but I can’t figure out how the feds justify allowing companies like Comcast to make such crudely obvious power grabs. It’s hard to overestimate the effect of Comcast’s multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts, or the power of David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. But still…

Here’s part of the explanation, from Guardian UK’s Dan Gilmor:

America’s cable companies grew up in the cozy embrace of local governments that gave them monopoly franchises, which they’ve expanded over the years via mergers and acquisitions, not just normal growth. The noncompetitive local franchise model means that when one cable giant buys another, the customers generally have the same choices as before for subscription TV (cable or satellite) and internet service (cable or phone company DSL).

Whose interest is served by such a deal? The shareholders of TWC and Comcast would be thrilled, for sure. So would the NSA and other surveillance statists, who would undoubtedly be happiest if we reverted to the era when a single behemoth telecommunications enterprise served, for all practical purposes, as an arm of the spy services.

The other main winners would be the remaining telecom “competitors” that would be part of an ever-cozier oligopoly of enterprises that upgrade reluctantly and, compared to providers in other developed nations, grossly overcharge their customers. So look for more mergers, even less user privacy, higher prices and – if this is possible for the generally loathed cable companies – even worse service.

Call it the reality of pervasive political corruption. As City Paper’s Daniel Denvir wrote:

Philadelphia’s elected officials will no doubt line up to back Comcast, which recently announced its plans to build a second (taxpayer-subsidized) skyscraper here in its hometown. This is a company that works hard to make political friends, and which is energetically supporting Gov. Tom Corbett’s imperiled reelection campaign.

But still… Isn’t it the job of the feds to make sure gluttonous corporations don’t morph into entities so powerful they can crush competition by buying the people who write the laws? And wasn’t that a naive question?

Maybe the current FCC commissioners and the DoJ have decided today’s media monsters are too big for quaint anti-trust laws. We should know by the end of the year.

Bread and water? Beats jail food

Fog Over Disturbed Water

Pig meat gives me bad dreams; I don’t eat it unless there’s nothing else. Philosopher and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer would tell me there is always something else, that “We are, quite literally, gambling with the future of our planet — for the sake of hamburgers.” And hot dogs. But Singer hangs out at Princeton, not in a swamp.

“Why didn’t you swipe soyburgers instead of swine meat?” the swamp rabbit asked me again today, in the spirit if not the style of Singer. “Or a head of lettuce. How hard is it to steal lettuce, Odd Man?”

He’s still angry about having to split a pack of wieners with me on Saturday, when the temperature in these parts plunged to near zero. He was angry on Sunday, too, but the weather was better. Warm air flowed in so fast the whole swamp fogged up as the ice melted.

I woke up Sunday night — or dreamed I woke up — and saw dead people floating out of the fog toward my shack. One was my late Great Aunt Nan, who used to give me candies and warn me to stop being a bad boy. This time she issued her old warning in a ghostly tone. “Bread and water. That’s all they feed you in jail.”

Not true, I thought, recalling a piece last month in Truthdig by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges about Aramark Corporation, a Philadelphia-based professional services company that supplies food for inmates at 600 jails and prisons nationwide — food that, according to Hedges, sometimes isn’t fit for your dog to eat, or maybe even your rabbit:

…In February 2009 a Camden County, N.J., health report found that the Aramark-run kitchen in the county jail had “mice throughout kitchen and storage area.” Mouse droppings were discovered in butter. Several food items, including grits, chicken, rice and beef, were not stored at temperatures low enough to protect against contamination. Prisoners at the county jail in Santa Barbara, Calif., went on a hunger strike last summer to protest the Aramark food, and inmates at Bayside State Prison in New Jersey went on a hunger strike in October for the same reason…

I’ll stop there, in case you’re looking forward to lunch. Hedges’ piece is reminiscent of passages from The Jungle and addresses some of the ways big corporations are cashing in on the fact that incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world.

Hedges is an unabashed foe of corporatism, so it’s no surprise he wrote a negative piece about Aramark. But I’m wondering why The Philadelphia Inquirer or some other prominent mainstream news entity hasn’t done an “objective” report on the many complaints about the kitchen facilities and jail food served up by this services giant, a Fortune 500 company that has its own high-rise office building in Philly and generates $12 billion a year in revenues.

Maybe I just answered my own question.

Footnote: See Prison Legal News for more on prison food services.

Summers’ end (exit Iago)

“Look, it’s Larry Summers,” said the swamp rabbit, pointing at an oil slick on the wetlands that surrounds my shotgun shack in Tinicum. “I think he’s heading north, maybe back to Harvard.”

“No way,” I said. “He gambled away a big chunk of Harvard’s endowment.”

We’d just read that Summers will not be nominated to head the Federal Reserve Board. One less malignant hustler using a powerful post to undermine the quality of life of Americans who aren’t rich. I can’t think of a better possible story out of Washington, D.C. Maybe if Summers had been knocked on his ass by someone who lost a home to one of the banks he helped bail out during the economic crisis he helped cause.

No surprise that Barack Obama, according to The New York Times, had wanted Summers for the job but apparently didn’t choose him because of the political risks:

…But as that Oval Office meeting last year also suggests, Mr. Obama’s one concern about nominating Mr. Summers has been the potential for a Senate battle — not only from Republicans spoiling for fights, but also from Democrats who view Mr. Summers as having been too friendly toward deregulating big banks when he was Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration…

“Too friendly” — how’s that for polite understatement? Summers played a key role in the repeal of Glass-Steagall. After the big banks went belly up, he saved them with taxpayers’ money, much of which should have been spent to replace millions of lost jobs, and on a large-scale foreclosure-blocking program. And now, even though he won’t head the Fed, the self-satisfied little toad is still playing Iago to Obama’s Othello.

Footnote: From a piece by Peter Beinart that explains why the Democratic Party will become even more like the GOP unless progressives fight to completely overhaul it:

From Tony Coelho, who during the Reagan years taught House Democrats to raise money from corporate lobbyists to Bill Clinton, who made Goldman Sachs co-chairman Robert Rubin his chief economic adviser, to Barack Obama, who gave the job to Rubin’s former deputy and alter ego, Larry Summers, Democrats have found it easier to forge relationships with the conservative worlds of big business and high finance because they have not faced much countervailing pressure from an independent movement of the left.

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