The system uses our better natures to crush us

March 10, 2013

I’ve followed Naked Capitalism for a few years now, and it’s meant a lot to me and I recommend it highly, but my attendance has been rather desultory here of late.  Desultory, that’s the word: “lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.”  Ditto corrente, the MMT sites, the current Mark Ames/Yasha Levine/Dr. Dolan vehicle, et al.  Sometimes, I think I’m losing what fight I have in me.  I’m tired.

That said, Lambert Strether posted something today that had me thinking.  The post is semi-autobiographical, using personal history to touch upon the problem of  life and how to live it, and particularly how to approach work.   And, in thinking it through, and even offering my own meager insights, it occurs to me to be very very angry.   I went deeply and irremediably in debt to fund a fancy education.  I did it because I wanted to be a professional, because I wanted a high-paying job, because I wanted the prestige – all the regular, crummy reasons.  But beyond that, and really more fundamentally than all that, I had been raised to respect education, and educated people, and to think that having that degree was something worth having for its own sake.  Of course, there is all manner of gamesmanship and opportunism and general crumminess, but ultimately one can honorably pursue that goal, and that is something good and redemptive.  So seeking some better life, some meaningful life, I walked into a rent extraction mechanism that is destroying me.  That is, what I thought was true was a fucking lie – my “honorable path” is really just a rip-off.  I was scammed.  We all were scammed – but me, specifically.  I, the guy I live with every day, was played for a fucking sucker, successfully and completely.  We’re not talking abstractions here.

So, what about Obama?  There’s a thread here, just bear with me.  The really galling thing about my failed and miserable life is that my failure was built on my dreams.  That is, my best-willed aspirations were the mechanisms of my own downfall.  These aspirations, mind you, weren’t sleezy.  I have my fair share of sleeziness, but the naive optimistic belief that being well-educated is a good thing is not sleezy at all.  That is, this horrible nightmare system that we’ve inherited from our parents, and which is mutilating us mercilessly, does not get its advantage over me due to my worst qualities, but rather due to my best qualities.  That is why and how this system is so entirely vicious – it appeals to the better angels of our nature, and then uses that appeal to stamp us into mush.

So what about Obama, you ask?  (Yes, you can see it coming, right?)  The appeal to hope and change and all things healthy and kind, just to use that appeal to deliver the believers to his real oligopolic vampire constituency, is Obamaism all over.  The system that takes ideals and standards and makes them into rent-seeking opportunities for psychopaths – that’s my dark reality, but that’s also the 2008 Democratic campaign, and the 2012, and the recent past, and the indefinite future.  A future of bile, resignation, decline, and death.


I hate him, I really hate him

February 24, 2013

Ran into an important post from blogger Gaius Publius that has quickly gotten some attention, including here, here and here. The gist is exposing the bipartisan nature of the Fix the Debt terrorists. What catches my eye, and activates my gag-or-cry reflex, is the “yes we can” video (aka, the dick riding video) from the heady days of ’08 embedded in the post. The existence of this video exemplifies why I feel a deep, personal aversion to Obama. The corny, sentimental sincerity of those paper-thin celebs in the video was a reflection of the corny, sentimental sincerity of millions of us real people, really struggling and really facing desolation and impotence, and ignorance, who really wanted this guy to be somebody that would work for us, somebody we could rely on and be proud of. Not somebody perfect, just somebody sensible and able, who gave enough of a damn to at the very least not cynically exploit us.

And what did we get? We got the bankster’s best friend, read-my-lips-“predator drones”, too big to fail Barack – who cynically exploited our trust and hope to deliver us, dormant and abused, to his sole and real constituency, the robber baron ownership class that is destroying us. I can forgive an enemy like Boehner, at least in a vague, Christian-charity way. What I can’t stomach, not for one moment longer, is an ingrate and turncoat. Boehner just makes one miffed, and perhaps a bit amused. Barack makes one feel duped – jilted, stupid. NSA and FBI, take note – I really really hate him.

“I cannot eat as much, as I would like to puke”

December 13, 2012

All I can say is toldja so, toldja so, toldja so.  Obama’s justice department, under the always reliable guiding hand of Lanny Breuer, takes a pass on criminal prosecutions of HSBC executive for – you guessed it – actual criminal conduct.

As Matt Tabbi points out, this is a particular insult to those people, and millions of them there are, who have been ground down and even robbed in our War on Drugs. You and I get bound over to a prison-cum-rape camp, and all our worldly possessions are confiscated to boot, while multi-billion dollar drug money launderers get something called partially deferred compensation.

As Neil Barofsky points out, the “justice” meted out in this case – no criminal prosecutions, a civil fine amounting to a few weeks of earnings – is a green light to risky bank behavior, and inevitably a prelude to the next financial crash. Cue the Obamabots, blaming the next big one, which is guaranteed to come, on Bush.

The coup continues, and, astoundingly, the Obamabots don’t seem to care, or notice, or something. When will this nightmare end?

Well, the other guy is worse

November 8, 2012

As we race headlong toward austerity in the USA (cue Sex Pistols), it may be worth a moment to look back at the Obamabot’s most oft evoked reason for sticking with da man: well, the other guy is worse. The thought process is something like multivariate analysis, sifting through the data at hand to try to find a statistically significant degree of “betterness.”  Sure, Obama has a dreadful record on civil liberties.  Sure, Obama gave Wall Street a free pass after it destroyed the American economy by a fraud-inflated real estate bubble.  Sure, Obama oversaw the further super-consolidation of the banking sector.  Sure, Dodd-Frank is a gilded turd.  But assuming that the other guy is just as bad on those points, where does that leave us?  Wait, Obama said something nice about gay marriage not too long ago.  So, all other stuff being equal, isn’t he better?  Marginal progressivism: both guys are vile, but after canceling out the vileness, one guy has a residuum of betterness.

But does the vileness really cancel out?  Let’s not overlook Obama’s mad skillz. Immediately after our state-sanctioned interaction with the voting machine, Boehner “gives in” and starts talking compromise.  Peter Orszag, in the words of Yves Smith, starts pushing catfood futures hard. The moment is at hand: our Democratic leader is on the cusp of his Nixon goes to China moment.  The Grand Bargain Great Betrayal is nigh. Very soon, many many people who just yesterday were enjoying the dopamine rush of seeing their “progressive” choice in the seat of power will stand mouth agape at the sight of that same choice signing into law the demolition of the New Deal welfare state.   How, exactly, was the other guy going to be worse?

Scraps of dignity

… and, hell even if true: at what point is marginally better not good enough? 10%? 1%? .001%?  Where’s our dignity, that we’re content with such table scraps? When, where, and how do we regain our dignity?

Dopamine’s role in the enjoyment of spectator sports

Besides, I’m not sure there’s really any calculation here anyway.  Tell a friendly, good-willed Obamabot that you’re not supporting da man because, say, his support for the elimination of the ancient right to habeas corpus.  See the puzzled looked, the hurt countenance, the defensive gesture, the grasping for a comeback, and, finally: “but what about the Supreme Court? Abortion, ya know.”  That wasn’t a deeply seated conviction so much as a notion dredged up on the fly in support of an emotional conviction.  Sure, my support for a woman’s right to on-demand abortion is absolute.  But is that conviction really what motivates Obamabots?  If so, shouldn’t they be a bit hesitant about their man, given that he’s actually done precious little to actually uphold reproductive freedom?  But no, my Obamabotic friends are getting a first rate dopamine squirt, as if on November 6 we actually won single payer health care.  Are they really using reason, or is this just the instinctual herd feeling of going with Team Blue?  If the latter, then is there really any superiority in being for Team Blue vs. Team Red?  I’ve always heard progressive types scratching their heads over how, oh how, those benighted working class Republicans can support positions against their own self-interest.  Maybe we should be careful with that kind of talk.  Maybe we’re fools too – turkeys celebrating the cleaver, deer greeting the shotgun.

Team Blue v. Team Red.  Think Yankees v. Red Sox, but with both teams owned by same person.  Or not same person – by the same consortium of private equity funds.  Regardless of the  intense rush I feel from seeing my team hit one over the fence, my feelings have nothing to do with the way the game works.  Or why the game is played the way it is, or what it really means.

Behind the voting machine

I periodically interact with the voting machine, as expected, and enjoy the swirling lights and surprise buzzers if I “win.” Meanwhile, real decisions, the real action, is going on somewhere else, somewhere I cannot see or even fathom.


November 6, 2012

That’s a cool college word.  It means the sense of alienation one gets when one walks into an elementary school gym somewhere in pelagic America, approaches a voting machine, and casts a write-in vote that for all practical purposes – and perhaps by the design of the machine – will be disregarded.  That is the true meaning of this ‘historic’ election: an election reduced to a “voting machine” designed to pantomime democracy while nullifying actual popular sovereignty.  One is reminded of the “close doors” buttons in elevators.  They don’t work, by design, but perhaps they make us feel better.

Election day nausea: two more reasons to hope Obama loses

November 6, 2012

1.  If he wins, there’s a good chance that it will be by winning the electoral college and losing the popular vote.  Meaning that progressive opposition to that mideaval antidemocratic institution will, like progressive opposition to neoliberalism, vanish.

2. When the Great Recession part II hits under Obama part II, the market fascist right will blame the Keynesian socialist tax-and-liberal progressivism that it imagines Obama to exemplify.  The liberal-left, too cowed and stupified to articulate any objection, will merely nod and whimper.  Then whatever Randroid abomination that the Repugs can vomit forth will stride into power unopposed in 2016.

But he gave us universal healthcare

October 23, 2012

In my quixotic and lonely attempts to convert my Obamabotic friends, loved ones, and companions, as well as Facebook types, I’ve come across the retort that “well, Obama did ____”, where the blank is filled with some pleasant thing that the great deceiver has done for us. Sometimes its Federal student loan relief, or the GM bailout, but most often its the signature achievement of Obama’s first four years: Romneycare … I mean, Obamacare.

Now, there is plenty of left criticism of this dog’s breakfast that is Obama’s health insurance (not health care) plan. The plan is a give away to big insurance and big pharma; it does nothing to control costs; it doesn’t provide universal coverage; it needlessly costs lives while its provisions slowly kick in; it preserves the grotesque amount of administrative overhead characteristic of the American way of medicine. But don’t just take my word for it.

In fact, I’d go farther: the Obama program is really a vehicle for looting. In an act of government sponsored primitive accumulation, it forces masses of people into a mandated market. Without cost controls, and with the duopoly’s longtime abandonment of any concept of antitrust, the market will quickly implode, as price pressures will quickly overwhelm any but the richest person’s ability to afford health care. In the meantime, though, the usual suspects – FIRE – will cash out. Then it’s onto privatized education, and then water, and then … the genius of Wall Street will tell.

But more immediately, I’m struck by the peasant-like attitude of these progressive Obama apologists. Obama gave us universal health care. He gifted it to us. He was brave, generous, and kind – and we were passive, and grateful. This is president as Czar, and progressive as peasant. No doubt, Czar Barack’s shortcomings can be attributed not to his own venality, but to the machinations of the evil people around him. If only the Czar could see the real unvarnished truth, then he’d set us free.  Or, perhaps, he’d give us an $8 / hour minimum wage.  One can only vote, and dream, and wait.