Politics, privacy and other issues, including stuff that just seems relevant today.


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1 week Ago

Relating to Race with Chris Rock

Published by marco on

I’d heard that the article In Conversation: Chris Rock by Frank Rich (Vulture) including some groundbreaking statements on race by Chris Rock. I like Chris Rock and I like his standup. He’s a comedian, though, so while his niggers vs. black people bit was funny at the time, in retrospect, it’s a savage attack on the poor and uneducated. Still, admittedly funny at the time.

On Bill Maher

Seeing that Frank Rich of the New York Times had interviewed him was not encouraging. So let’s see what Rock has to say. It starts off … suspiciously. Frank asks about “the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims”. How the hell is it appropriate to classify Maher’s material as a “riff” on Muslims? He is an adamant and unapologetic Islamophobe. He doesn’t riff on them; he basically advocates eradicating them as an otherwise unsolvable problem. And he’s been doing it long enough in non-comedic settings that we have to assume he means it.

Maher changed roles from comedian to political analyst quite a while ago. In neither role is he very good, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there. But it’s easy to see that Rock has a weird—though quintessentially American—definition of “left” when he later in the interview classifies “Maher [as] on the left”. Maher is in fact a self-described, fanatical libertarian who thinks Muslims are evil. That is in no way a leftist attitude. So take Rock’s political opinions with a grain of salt: he seems relatively well-indoctrinated, unfortunately. I say “seems” because Rock is a comedian and he generally tries to make people laugh, not to provide trenchant analysis.

Rock responds to the question about Maher’s “ban” from Berkeley[1] that he too “stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.” That’s his answer. Instead of distancing himself from Maher and his poisonous racism, he sympathizes with him, noting that kids these days are too intolerant.

Kids these days

There is evidence that this newest generation is considerably more sensitive to discrimination issues, that they feel more entitled to not hearing opinions that they consider unsavory. That this sensitivity leads to an aversion to Maher is not a bad thing. In addition, anyone who picks Berkeley to represent colleges in general is out of touch. I can’t imagine that Berkeley and Texas A&M are at all on the same wavelength as far as racism-sensitivity goes. Calling a college like Berkeley conservative is just baiting contrarianism. Rock’s just trying to get the interviewer to double-take. Classifying kids who don’t want their school to pay a racist for his hate speech as conservative is not correct, and is even unfair.

Let the idiot talk

I don’t agree with banning racists, by the way. I prefer to hear the racist or the islamophobe—give him or her enough rope to hang him- or herself. Will some people cheer him or her on? Sure, and they will self-identify as well as people desperately in need of guidance or avoidance, depending on how far gone they are.

But how many times do we have to hear someone’s unaccepting schtick before we stop giving that person a stage? Have we heard enough from Rush Limbaugh now to form an opinion? Can we stop listening now? Are we sure that he doesn’t have something useful to contribute to the conversation? Does Rock still listen to Limbaugh? You know, just to be sure he isn’t missing something? Probably not. And the rest of us have stopped listening to Maher.

We all have a limited amount of time to spend on things. Maher isn’t worth it, in my opinion. I understand that it’s highly unlikely that this is Berkeley didn’t host him—to help people avoid wasting time. They probably did it for the petty, closed-minded reason that Rock cited. Should Berkeley have booked him and paid him, but let all of its campus groups encourage no-one to show up? Pay him to play an empty room—there, that’ll show him? That sounds kinda stupid, too. Where a lovely guy like Maher’s involved, it’s damned if you do and damned if you dont’.

Comedians are different

Rock definitely has a point about comedians. Comedians are often not even representing their own opinions in their material and their act. They’re just being funny. Bill Burr is a classic example. Some of his material is jarring, but when you hear him banter with another comedian, you realize he’s a more even-handed guy than his on-stage persona. He has a pretty big audience, some of whom probably take him seriously, but what can you do?

And you can’t make people want to listen to stuff that makes them uncomfortable. Does it possibly expand your horizons? I think that it does. But it’s not for everyone. Most people don’t have the ironic background to let them process things that aren’t true and still glean something from the experience. I like Bill Hicks. I like Doug Stanhope. But I’m not surprised if Stanhope has trouble booking a gig at Berkeley.

Rock’s other policy ideas

Rich keeps asking Rock policy questions, but it’s unclear whether Rock is answering as a comedian or as a policy analyst. Most of his metaphors sound like bits, so it’s hard to take it seriously. He seems to be uncomfortably apologetic about Obama, which isn’t too surprising since he probably thinks Obama’s a goody-two-shoes leftist who’s trying his best.

His take on race relations is spot-on, though:

“Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”

I have nothing to add there.

Is a black president a sign of progress?

The following statement from Rock seems right, doesn’t it?

“[…] to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years.”

Is it, though? Can we first agree on what we call progress? Or that we don’t all think of progress in the same way? Rock and I—I will venture—consider progress to be a society that is capable of electing the best leader regardless of skin color. That is, a society that can choose a leader based on qualities salient to the job rather than non-relevant ones is more advanced than one that cannot. At the very least, that society will have leaders more likely to fulfill the needs of a larger proportion of the population.[2]

Is that what happened, though? Is it that these “[qualified] black people” that Rock mentions simply kept on keepin’ on and white America finally noticed and elected one? Or is it more that these intelligent black people figured out how to make themselves more appealing to the entrenched system?

Obama is not Martin Luther King. Before we pat ourselves on the back for having elected a black man, we should consider what kind of man he is. He is policy-wise no different than Bush. He’s arguably worse.[3] He’s like Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas—all very powerful black people. However, the reason they’re allowed to be powerful is because they promulgate the white agenda. They play nice. They’re not Django; they’re Stephen. So I don’t think it’s progress in the way that Rock characterizes it.

End on a high note

Where Rock does hit a proper note is that the newer generations are objectively better at ignoring race than previous ones. It is not clear that we are moving toward the goal of being an actually “advanced” society, as defined above. Perhaps we have to wait for a few more generations to die off first.

So we’re still not great at it, but as Rock puts it,

“The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

Indeed. I can back that 100%.[4]

[1] Deciding not to pay someone a likely exorbitant sum to play your campus is not quite the same as banning that person. It’s likely he would have been allowed to play the campus for free, you know, standing in a quad or something. Maher presumably deemed that to be beneath his regard. That’s not banning, though. His free speech was not infringed upon.
[2] I am aware that this statement is only conditionally true but unpacking it in a way that does the issue justice is beyond the scope of this article.
[3] Or better, depending on your station in life (go 1%ers!) and/or attitude toward unbridled jingoism and militarism
[4] “But, but, what about the blacks?” I imagine some you sputtering, “don’t they have to be nicer too?” No, no, not yet. Because we’re not really on even footing yet (see yesterday’s article for some ugly, ugly statistics). Rock uses a metaphor with Ike and Tina Turner, but I’ll summarize it as: if a man is beating his wife, he has to stop beating his wife. While it’s possible that her constant mouthing-off is the reason he gives for beating her, only a monster would suggest that her shutting up is the solution. The person who says “shut up so I can stop hitting you” is the one with the problem. For those lost in the metaphor: suggesting that blacks simply stop moving their hands in public so cops don’t shoot them is a stupid, stupid idea. Sit down and we’ll call on you when we want another opinion.

2 weeks Ago

Michael Brown and Ferguson

Published by marco on

I haven’t really weighed in on this topic because I’m still digesting it. There are so many interlocking parts and so many reasons for why things are not right that an off-the-cuff article just doesn’t do the topic justice. A lot of what you read gives the impression that the fact that people are rioting in one town in the Midwest is a good excuse for trotting out more unsavory opinions in the guise of chastening those thugs and hoodlums who can’t abide by the rule of law.

If you assumed that with “thugs and hoodlums who can’t abide by the rule of law”, I was referring to the folks on the streets in Ferguson, then you might want to count down from ten before you contribute anything to a discussion on race. If you wondered to yourself whether I meant those in power—represented by cops these days—instead of the knee-jerk target, then you’re in the right frame of mind for thinking about social policy in a U.S. in a way that might lead to solutions rather than a further cementing of existing disparities.

Kunstler’s theory: blacks are getting away with murder

The article Now Eric Garner by James Howard Kunstler is one such unsavory opinion. He’s wildly off base when he writes,

“Worse, the decision only muddied the public’s view of several events in recent years involving black people, police, and standards of behavior so that now a general opinion prevails that all black people are always treated badly for no reason. That was the same week, by the way, that a white Bosnian immigrant named Zemir Begic was bludgeoned to death by three black teenagers wielding hammers who were out beating on stopped cars on a St Louis street — a crime that was barely covered in the news media, and went unprotested outside the immigrant neighborhood where it occurred.”

I’ve followed Kunstler for years and have noticed the warping already in his discussions of Israel and Palestine, but this is almost too unpalatable to keep reading.

Why is that?

This is poorly veiled code for: black people sure seem to be committing a lot of crime. And now they’re whining about getting shot once in a while? Because cops notice that blacks commit crime? What kind of a messed-up country are we? By bringing Zemir Begic into it, Kunstler is comparing apples to oranges and is, honestly, not even trying to understand what is going on outside of his unfortunately warped lens.

Use your brain

I want to emphasize that this is a guy who can contribute in nuanced way to many discussions, but here he just seems tone-deaf. He falls into the same trap that the less-informed do: they come to statistically and experimentally untenable conclusions. For example, dozens of studies will tell you that the various racial groups in the U.S. tend to commit about the same percentage of crimes in the various categories in direct relation to their proportion of the population.

Where the racism comes in, is in the arrest rates. If only blacks are arrested for doing crack, we can conclude that only they are doing crack. Unless we also know from anonymous studies that everyone does crack, but the cops only seem to catch black people doing it. The theory that black people do more drugs is belied by the data. The next theory is that there is a racist component to the arrest rates. Science is really not that hard.

Desperation explains crime

People are not pissed because they are being treated slightly unfairly. They are pissed because they know that the whole system is tipped against them and now on top of having unutterably shitty lives of mostly silently suffering desperation they’re being murdered in increasing numbers and in ways that are sanctioned by the state. They have understandably moved to a game plan that is based on a realization that once they can just execute you with impunity, you don’t have very much more to lose and you just about have to fight back.

And this is not just a black thing. It’s very much a class thing, with homeless and poor of all races being treated poorly across the board. The incarceration numbers—percentages and sentence lengths—speak for themselves: the American justice system is extremely racist from top to bottom. No study bears out the theory that “black people commit more crime.” Poor and desperate people do commit more crimes.

That’s small stuff, though, Rich people do much more harm with their crimes. But we don’t care about those. Instead, we suck the poor dry, like vampire mosquitos, with fines and penalties and late fees and exorbitant interest rates. We have a society that drives them to crime, just to survive, and then we hammer them for it all the more, exclaiming exasperatedly that “these people just won’t learn”.

Oh, I think they’ve learned quite well the lesson that society has taught them. And just like many of us have learned the lesson our experiences in society have taught us: that nothing really bad can happen to us, no matter what, they’ve also learned their lesson: no matter what you do, you’re fucked.

Murder depends on the perp

To get back to Kunstler’s article, the difference between Begic’s murder and the murder of Michael Brown is that suspects were arrested in the former case whereas in the latter the perpetrator was let go without a trial.

The difference is that when the powerless prey on the powerless, arrests are made. When the powerful prey on the powerless, nothing happens.

And that’s why people are protesting.

People have been arrested for Begic’s murder and his family will likely get justice. Eric Garner was choked to death by several police and the country chuckles to itself that it was his own fault for being so fucking fat.


An egoist’s reasoning against racism

While we’re on the subject of tone-deafness and “not helping”, the article When Whites Just Don’t Get It by Nicholas Kristof (New York Times) ends up exhorting whites to ask themselves “what’s in it for me?”

The article seemed promising at first, despite the byline, which is ordinarily a warning to keep away. I’d gotten a reference from a reliable source and the citations were also encouraging.

For example,

“The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data.”

That is truly staggering. There are more equally staggering facts, all of them showing a massive disparity, based pretty much solely on skin color. Blacks are far more likely to go to jail, they get paid less—and the income and wealth disparities have only gotten worse, not better.

For once, Kristof’s heart seems to be in the right place—he writes that the feeling that racism is dead is a “smug white delusion”.

Unfortunately, it seems to be impossible for Kristof to write further about this topic without his standard veil of disingenuousness. For example, in the following citation, he take the “we’re all in this together” attitude, appealing to his mostly white readers with a message not of basic morality but of self-interest. As usual.

“All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.”

Yeah, but blacks suffer just a bit more than whites. It’s like a husband telling him wife after he’s beaten her bloody one more time: “we’re both suffering, honey. Look—my knuckles are all skinned. And…and, I get nightmares.”

And here, while he’s able to correctly point out that mass incarceration is one of the chief weapons employed, he’s incapable of calling it for what it is: a deliberate means of unfairly keeping the black man in line.

“Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed”

Don’t be stupid

It’s not exactly a tipping point for America today, but the world is looking on with an ever-more-appalled look on its face. Things have however been this bad—and worse—before, so we shouldn’t flatter ourselves into thinking that this time it will be different. Instead, we should examine our knee-jerk reactions to these killings and make sure we have some facts before spouting off 19th-century opinions about the “mind of the negro”.

We should all try to be better, try not to be so swayed by lazy, stupid arguments that end up in cul de sacs rather than in workable solutions. If you think you have the solution to America’s problems, think your idea through to the end and see if it wouldn’t eventually lead to internment camps or curfews or perhaps a quick little “cleansing”. If it does, back away slowly, and let the grown-ups do the talking for a while.

1 month Ago

Workfare instead of welfare

Published by marco on

I received the post Maine Just Changed Their Food-Stamp Policy… Every State Should Do This (Conservative Tribune) from a friend.

The friend wondered whether the following was a good idea. They thought it might be, but asked if I could confirm.

“[…] adults 18 to 50 years old with no children and who are able to work must do so or volunteer for 20 hours each week. Otherwise, their benefits will be limited to three months over a three-year period”

This is one of those superficially seductive ideas that keeps coming up. Basically, should the U.S. privatize and marketize the remaining social components of its safety net? Should it remove the last vestiges of mercy from its society?

They are not us

This idea assumes that people on welfare are lazy. That their inability to support themselves and their families and subsequent desperation is purely their own fault. That they deserve their fate.

But—and I think this is the most important part of all—if we believe that those on welfare deserve to be treated poorly, then those of us not on welfare are free to believe that we earned our much better lives.

There is no mercy in such a system, no acknowledgment that the system treats some much worse than others. That luck plays a large role in the lives of both the most disadvantaged and the most advantaged.

There are so many factors dooming people to poverty in America. Programs like this, that force their participants to dance for their supper, are a cruel joke. They make those of us who will never have to be part of one of these programs feel vindicated, but that feeling comes from a petty, stupid and cruel place.

Lazy. Stupid. Ignorant.

Given this presupposition, it of course makes sense to punish others for being poor, to extract what we can from them instead of supporting these parasites.

There are so many reasons other than laziness that people can’t get jobs:

  • There aren’t enough jobs that pay living wages
  • The jobs that are available are soul-killing or physically dangerous
  • The education system is a joke; There is no training for good jobs
  • The continuing education system is weak to nonexistent
  • Many “decent” jobs are out of reach for anyone without at least a bachelor’s degree
  • There is prejudice everywhere against the poor
    • Don’t have nice clothes? Forget office work
    • Can’t speak without an accent? Or slang? Forget office work
    • Bad teeth? Forget a whole slew of jobs
    • Not pretty? Overweight? Same thing.
    • Black? Hispanic?

Tantamount to slavery

Instead of giving the poor help to get them back on their feet, we give them what amount to jobs. I suppose this sounds good to some. There’s a lot of work to do and not enough people to do it.

If they don’t comply, they no longer get the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t comply, they get their super-generous benefits of a few hundred dollars per month for only three months and then nothing for thirty-three more months.

If you can’t find a job of your own—or are unwilling to do so—you have to do the job you’re given by the state. This is just a transformation of the unemployment program, though. Instead of making you seek out jobs in your area of expertise, these new programs just give you a job.

And what do you get paid for this job? The article says “or volunteer 20 hours each week”. If you have to do the work to get benefits, then it is, by definition, not volunteering. But what they mean by “volunteer” is that you’re doing the job for no salary, other than the benefits (which you used to get for free).

Welfare benefits are notoriously meager. Most recipients are scraping the bottom of the barrel by the third week of the month, no matter how well they stretch them. This is not a luxurious lifestyle.

So, even if you do get paid for your work, the salary is almost certainly far below minimum wage.

Life in the hands of the state

Under such a system, people will have a job of sorts, but far less chance to get control back over their lives.

If you spend 20 hours per week working at this shitty, super-low-paid job, do you have time to find a better one? No, you probably do not. Do you have time for your continuing education program? No to that too. What about your kids? Who takes care of them while you work? Hire a babysitter. It’s good for the economy.

It’s hard to imagine that society that converts its welfare program to something like this will pay a living wage. And you can forget about benefits or any thought for how a life is supposed to work under this regime. That’s not the taxpayer’s problem because they’re already being generous enough by throwing a few dollars and a job the recipient’s way.[1]

Don’t like it? Don’t take the extravagant benefits, you lazy bastard.

And stop whining about your kids.

You shouldn’t have had them if you can’t take care of them.


And your kids are future freeloaders.

Race to the bottom

These programs are not new. Back in the 90s, the “workfare” program was the brainchild of Bill Clinton (yep, the so-called progressive). Mayor Rudolph Guiliani implemented it in NYC by making welfare recipients work in the park system.

What happened? Their salaries were on the order of a dollar or two per hour and so they were much cheaper to hire than the current park staff. The current staff was let go and replaced with much–lower-paid unskilled labor. A win all around, right? The skilled and trained labor lost their good jobs.

Taxpayers win because they also don’t have to pay for benefits or pensions or anything. Awesome, right? Because nobody who mattered knew anyone with a good job in the park system, so the park workers might as well not even exist.

So what happens with all of those people who just lost their jobs? No problem. They go on welfare and can go right back to work in the park, but at 1/10 of their former salary without benefits or a pension. Sweet.

This kind of program gets rid of good jobs and makes everyone race to the bottom, working harder for less. It’s capitalism at its finest.

No more unions, no more pensions, no more benefits. Not for the poor. They don’t deserve it. If they did, wouldn’t they already have it?

Being poor is not a crime

The problem with this workfare kind of thinking is that it demonizes those out of work or down on their luck. It takes the few that are really lazy, makes anecdotes out of them to convince people that everyone is like that, and then making slaves out of them, more or less.

You can’t say, as the governor of Maine did, that you’re doing “all that you can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work” if you haven’t actually created real jobs and real job training. If the only jobs around are life-draining and crappy—and you have to get two of them to survive—are we surprised that people don’t want to do them?

Do some take advantage? Sure, they do. Do we doom the majority that actually need welfare programs and could benefit from them just to punish the few that ruin it for everyone? Do we have to do it? Is it that we can’t afford it? Or that we spend money on everything but the poor?

This program will drive people off of welfare—not because they don’t want to work, but because they don’t want to get trapped into the forced-work program of the state. They want dignity and control over their own lives, even though they’re poor. Can’t we afford to give them that?

There’s no money in helping people

If we need to spend billions and trillions to deploy to Iraq or to build the next generation of super-weapons or to start giant new agencies—like Homeland Security and the TSA—ostensibly to fight terrorism, no one says a thing.

Spend a few millions on the poor without them somehow paying us back and we’re up in arms.

We have no sense of proportion. We are not very nice.

Behavioral therapy

And we are cruel to those less fortunate. Because ill fortune is mostly why people are poor: they aren’t lucky enough to have been rewarded for the right behavior. Life has taught them that it’s not even worth trying anymore. They’re not necessarily inherently stupid or lazy; they have just learned the lesson that their lives taught them.

We continue to try because our experience has trained us that if we work hard, we achieve. How many years would you continue to work hard if you never achieved? If you were never rewarded, not even once? If life swatted you down? Every. Single. Time. Would you really keep getting back up?

Would you work as hard as you do if you were paid $150 a week after taxes? Would you keep looking for that job with the same energy after the first year of joblessness? At what point do you say “yes” to something criminal just to get some cash to feed yourself or your family?

And then you’re going to jail. Because you’re a criminal and deserve it. Because being poor pretty much is a crime.

Standing in judgment

We find it so easy to judge people about whom we know nothing. And it’s easy to lump all the poor together because most of us don’t know any of them or don’t have to sympathize with them. Or we hear stories about them from TV. Stories written by people who also probably don’t know any poor people. Or from cops, who have an adversarial relationship to them, granted them by the state. It goes on and on.

We don’t know them but we feel perfectly comfortable judging them. Only a society without empathy could make a so-called welfare system life this.

[1] I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but am not expecting it.

The Obama Question

Published by marco on

“What do you think of Obama?[1]

He is Barack Hussein Obama,

44th—and first black—President of the United States of America.

Nobel Peace-prize winner.

So-called leader of the free world.[2]


The Drone Ranger.

Mr. Guántanamo.

Mr. extraordinary rendition.

Mr. N.S.A.

The whistle-blower hunter.[3]

Defender of the 0.1%.

The question above is posed in different ways, in different tones. It depends on the person posing it. If the person hates Obama—for any of a variety of reasons, into which I may go later, then the question is accompanied by a conspiratorial leer. The leer extends a hopeful olive branch, anticipating an enjoyable evening of exchanging highly questionable information about Obama and his purported policies.

If the person likes Obama, they usually hope that you don’t mention torture, the financial bailout, drones, Guantánamo, Israel or any of another host of issues on which Obama is decidedly not progressive. Even the ACA—called “Obamacare” by nearly everyone—which he would likely deem to be the major part of his legacy, crumples under more progressive scrutiny.

Heaven forfend you mention any of Obama’s campaign promises—from 2008 or 2012—because his failure to have accomplished any of them in the manner he’d promised is—according to these people—most definitely not his fault. It is the fault of the Republicans.

So, his detractors oppose everything he stands for and his supporters acknowledge that he sucks but it’s not his fault.

Whose fault is it then?

The short answer? The system sucks and good luck changing it.

That many high-ranking Republicans seem hell-bent on policies that benefit only themselves and their friends to the detriment of all others is abundantly clear. That this group also includes many Democrats is also clear. Just because only 93% of Democrats are assholes versus 95% of Republicans doesn’t make much difference to the casual observer.[4] The natural conclusion to which to come is that they’re all assholes and you won’t be off by much. Assuming this will equip you well for dealing with them all. At the least, not trusting any of them is a good start. But I digress.

Of course, if their policies benefit you, then you’ll think they’re a swell bunch of guys—and they are still, mostly, guys. But you’re in a small minority. The vast majority of people in the U.S. and the world have nearly nothing in common with their representatives, be they in the U.S. or Iran or Russia or China … or any of dozens of other countries that happily count themselves in the OECD. There are a few where the government seems to work for the people instead of the other way around—e.g. Switzerland and a handful of Scandinavian countries, perhaps—but not many of us are lucky enough to live there.

The U.S.. is definitely in the other category, where the people pretty much work for the government, but let’s not forget: the government, in turn, works for its own masters. But those masters are not us.[5]

Corporations are people, in the U.S. at least. Those are the real masters of the 21st century. It is they—and their ultra-exclusive owners—who wield the real power. They call themselves the masters of the universe and have yet to be proven wrong.

Obama: smart? dumb? a dupe? evil?

Which brings us back to Obama. He’s incredibly far removed from any one of us. He can very eloquently express viewpoints that sound as if they sympathize and even echo our own. But he’s lying. We’ll leave it to history to decide for sure whether he himself knows he’s lying—but I’m going to come out and write that anyone that smart is at least self-aware enough to know that what he says and what he does almost never line up.

I’m sure it’s frustrating to constantly have to say things that you don’t mean in order to get things done that you really want. Such is the life of a politician. It’s not easy convincing people to do things against their own best interests—or against basic morality. Which is why you have to lie to them so much.

Is Obama a dupe? No, I don’t think so. That’s giving him too much credit. It’s so easy to buy the story that he’s desperately trying to enact a progressive program in America while presiding over one of the greatest regressive swings in history. Do people think that he’s the Mr. Magoo of politics? That he accidentally swings the economy in the favor of the bankers and Wall Street while really, honestly and desperately trying to do the right thing for the vast majority of Americans? How bloody hopeful and simple-minded could you possibly be to believe that? Believing this fairy tale ensures only that Obama—or someone very much like him—will hoodwink you again.

It’s the system, stupid[6]

But we can substitute the name “Obama” with the name of any politician. I want to emphasize that I don’t think he’s special, or especially bad. He’s just the current president. He’s the same—more or less and for all practical purposes—as all the rest. He starts wars, he runs a drone-based, extra-judicial assassination program that is demonstrably criminal and evil, he lowers taxes, he gives gobs of money to large corporations (hello, health-insurance industry), he glorifies the military and showers it with endless cash and weapons programs, he allows torture while redefining it otherwise semantically, he embargoes and fights economic wars against helpless nations, he ignores climate change, expands fossil-fuel subsidies and he promulgates an arrogant trade program that is a finger in the eye of every nation in the world.

It goes on and on. Business as usual. What the hell is so different about this model versus the last one, objectively speaking?

Why hate Obama? Many seem to hate him because he is black. This can be the only reason because it’s literally the only thing that they objectively don’t like about him. This single reason is overwhelmingly influential in how people form an opinion of him that they ignore a veritable slew of reasons that they should like him, all political and policy-oriented in nature. Reasons that should, by all rights, be much more important to a person than his skin color, but there you have it—man is a frail creature and a fallen one.[7]

Anti-progressives should love Obama

Yes, they should! He’s done absolutely everything he could to make them love him.

Bankers like Obama; he does everything they like. Republicans hate him, but he does almost everything like a Republican. He funnels tons of cash to the richest in our land and neglects everything that would benefit the poor. During his entire administration (and part of Bush’s) all of the income increase has been captured by the top 1%. Everyone else went backward. Is this the mark of a progressive? Only in a country as broken as the U.S., perhaps.

Even the ACA is a sop to insurance companies—the far more progressive single-payer model was swept off the table by the Obama administration even before negotiations started. People don’t remember that he didn’t even fight for it; he never wanted it.

Obama has the sweetest gig in politics: everything he wants, the Republicans want the exact opposite with a religious zeal. So he can say he wants the most outlandishly progressive things and he is nearly assured that the Republicans will deliver America the exact opposite. He looks like he’s trying to save humanity, and the Republicans deliver the regressive program he actually wanted.

Support is opposition; war is peace;

His recent support of net neutrality is a good example. What are the odds that the Internet will be regulated as a utility with the Republicans in charge for the next two years? Vanishingly small. What are the odds that it will happen if Obama wants it to happen? Zero percent.

The exact same goes for the much-ballyhooed climate agreement with China. More smoke and mirrors that looks progressive, but is all about meeting voluntary targets. China will probably actually meet theirs. The U.S.? With a Republican-controlled Congress and Senate? Not a fucking chance by Peter Lee (CounterPunch). But Obama gets the progressive praise for “trying”.[8]

So why does Obama support these things now, when he was all wishy-washy about it before? Hard to say.

I would like to think that it’s because Obama has found a backbone and realized that he has nothing to lose by finally standing up for what he believes in. I’ve always said that he should have been doing exactly that, that he could at least stand for what he believes in rather than compromising all the time and getting nothing out of it.

But if you have a hint of cynicism in you, you’ll be gut-laughing at my naiveté right now. Hell, I’m laughing at me for even having written it. This is the story that Obama is selling. Do not buy it.

I think that it’s much more likely that this is yet another example of something that Obama doesn’t really believe in but that he thinks he has to say in order to seal his legacy as a progressive president—because history has little do with reality, and American history even less so.

Or maybe he really is just manipulating the Republicans into doing what they all really want: the further privatization of America and the world, the promulgation of the single-minded and simplistic breed of capitalism that we seem to be stuck with.

Is he ineffective because he’s stupid? Or too smart? Too principled? His opposition is too evil? Is he actually effective?

Who knows? Who cares?

How many more years do we have to waste thinking about this?

What matters is that he is not part of the solution for the real problems that we have. That’s all you need to know, I think.

[1] A long while back, a reader asked me if I couldn’t write an article about Obama. Over three months later and I was finally inspired to do so. Unlike the two examples I give in the article, he was actually genuinely interested to know. Apologies for the delay.
[2] I suspect strongly that he only called that—at least non-sarcastically—in the U.S.
[3] With a nod to Hans Landa’s nickname in Inglourious Basterds
[4] Totally making these numbers up—but they feel right.
[5] I’m going out on a limb and assuming that you’re not in the 1% or the 0.1% or the 0.01% and gracing my blog with your presence. And if you are and haven’t been offended away? Fantastic!
[6] To paraphrase James Carville.
[7] To paraphrase the always delightful, pure of hatred and sorely missed Alexander Cockburn.
[8] Hell, hard-core Obama supporters probably give Obama credit for landing that probe on the comet himself. Even though it’s an E.S.A. venture.

John Oliver on the power of state legislators

Published by marco on

Congress may be at an ineffective standstill and the next two years are a legislative wasteland stretching before America and the world. The state legislatures, though, aren’t sitting still. Instead, they’re filled with the crème de la crème that America has to offer: from mildly racist to super-racist, from batshit crazy to crazier than a shithouse rat.

After introducing many of the lunatic creatures that will have an inordinate effect on ordinary citizens’ lives, Oliver notes that they are all running unopposed and concludes:

“We look forward to you wielding a terrifying amount of power over the next several years, safe in the knowledge that no one is paying attention.”

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: State Legislatures and ALEC (HBO) by John Oliver on Nov 2, 2014 (YouTube)