Tweedledum, Tweedledee spar on NPR

My friend Swamp Rabbit and I get a kick out of Republicans who complain of National Public Radio’s “liberal bias,” a strange charge given the fact that NPR rarely veers from the “he said/she said” style of reporting and commentary, even when he and she, or he and he, are voicing the same narrow point of view. In this case I’m referring to conservative David Brooks and liberal E. J. Dionne, who appear together with moderator Robert Siegel to share their opinions on hot news stories. This week Brooks and Dionne took turns agreeing that Russia is the Great Satan and should be penalized in some way by the United States if Crimea becomes part of Russia again.

The transcript:

Siegel: On Ukraine and Russia, does it appear that politics is stopping at the water’s edge? And if so, is U.S. policy sound? David Brooks, you first.

Brooks: I think so. I give the Obama administration an A for what they’ve done so far. They’ve been tough. They’ve been out front. They’ve really been cracking down in a slowly but very rigorous way against the Russians. They’ve taken clear sides. You know, I’d love to see every Russian oligarch have their kid kicked out of British prep school or something like that. That would end the crisis in a week.

But they’re doing that sort of thing. They’re freezing assets, they’re stopping visas, they’re raising money to help the Ukrainians. It’s a comprehensive policy which I think is getting pretty broad support.

Siegel: E.J.?

Dionne: It ought to be bipartisan, and on the actual steps being taken, it is – it is broadly bipartisan. There is still all this sniping at Obama, as if there were a whole lot more that we could do than we are doing. But I think there’s a toughness here and that Putin will pay a price, and I think he may pay the biggest price in the long term in Ukraine because he’s lost a lot of friends that he might have – or he’s lost for Russia a lot of friends that Russia might have had.

Siegel: Even though we expect a referendum on secession of Crimea to take place on Sunday…

Dionne: A phony referendum, it should be said, under occupation.

These guys could finish each other’s sentences. Why bother with a segment that purports to present different perspectives when both commentators are Washington, D.C. insiders who never stray far from so-called centrist positions? God forbid they should present Russia’s perspective on the Ukraine before they trot out the anti-Russian cliches.

“Ain’t no liberal bias on NPR, just mainstream drift,” Swamp Rabbit said as we sat on the porch and looked out at the swamp. “If you ain’t Tweedledum, you damn sure better be Tweedledee, or you don’t get no airtime.”

Clarification: This is not to imply the commentators are always mirror images of one another. Dionne is a standard-issue liberal; what you see if what you get. But Brooks is the Earnest Weasel, an apologist for the rich and corrupt posing as a moderate and a moralist, a hypocrite of the first order.

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Daring Dems vow to fight back against the Kochs

Charles Koch looks like a nice guy posing for a dentures ad, but he's your enemy unless you're rich.

No, Charles Koch is not some harmless old dude posing for a dentures ad.

Hold on to your laptops: According to The New York Times, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has an idea. He wants Dems to launch a media counterattack against two prominent plutocrats who are on a mission to destroy democracy in America — what’s left of it — by spending untold millions on blatantly dishonest pro-Republican campaign ads:

Democrats say the strategy of spotlighting the Koch brothers’ activities is politically shrewd. The majority leader was particularly struck by a presentation during a recent Senate Democratic retreat, which emphasized that one of the best ways to draw an effective contrast is to pick a villain, one of his aides said. And by scolding the Koch brothers, Mr. Reid is trying to draw them out, both to raise their public profile, and also to help rally the Democratic base.

“Well, duh,” my friend Swamp Rabbit said as I fed the wood stove in my Tinicum shack. “You ain’t gotta ‘pick a villain’ when he’s right there in the flesh, swinging a bat at you.”

“Not unless you’re a modern-day Democrat,” I said. “Dems have to check the polls before they defend themselves, even when they’re in the middle of getting their asses kicked.”

It’s true. The billionaire Koch brothers, David and Charles, have been demonstrating for years that they are serious about destroying labor unions, minimum-wage laws, environmental regulations, government-sponsored health care and everything else that might interfere with their money lust and benefit average citizens. There is no right-wing yahoo candidate they wouldn’t spend a fortune to elect. They are impossible to caricature. The great film director Frank Capra couldn’t have invented plutocrats as vile and greedy as the Kochs.

And yet the Dems in Washington are only now getting around to fighting back, even though midterm elections are less than a year away and the Kochs, for months, have been cranking out expensive propaganda on behalf of Republican candidates.

“I know Dems these days ain’t got no courage and don’t have no heart,” Swamp Rabbit said. “But ain’t there a few Dems in Congress that at least have a brain?”

“I don’t know, rabbit. Maybe they should ask the Wizard of Oz to help.”

But that’s a dead end, too. The closest thing Dems have to the Great Oz is Barack Obama, and he turned out to be an even bigger fraud than the Wiz in the old movie.

Posted in campaign finance reform, climate change, Congress, dirty rotten scoundrels, environmentalism, health care, humor, mainstream media, Obama, plutocracy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

MSNBC: The Russians are coming!

It says, "Our women would be helpless beneath the boots of Asiatic Russia.'

‘Our women would be helpless beneath the boots of the Asiatic Russians.’

Robert Parry in Consortium News:

If you were living in Crimea, would you prefer to remain part of Ukraine with its coup-installed government – with neo-Nazis running four ministries including the Ministry of Defense – or would you want to become part of Russia, which has had ties to Crimea going back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s?

Good question, and one that is rarely if ever asked by mainstream news outlets, including MSNBC, home of reputedly progressive talking heads who seem content to repeat the same anti-Russian propaganda you can hear on other channels, including Fox News.

Last night, in typically long-winded fashion, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow rehashed an old report on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, tiny territories in Georgia that Russia recognized as independent states after it intervened on their behalf in a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Maddow segued to an on-air interview with NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who suspects the upcoming referendum in Crimea is part of a long-range Russian plan to reclaim more territories lost when the Soviet Union imploded.

At one point, referring to Russia’s possible annexation of Crimea, Engel portentously said, “The question is, does [Vladimir] Putin stop there — does Russia stop there.” In other words, maybe Crimea is a prelude to a Russian takeover of the rest of Ukraine (the part that’s actually Ukrainian). And who knows what’s next, Richard. Maybe the rest of the freaking free world!

“What in the hell we watchin’?” my friend Swamp Rabbit said. “I thought the Cold War was over and done. This Engel guy sounds like he wants to be John Foster Dulles.”

The segment, it turned out, was called “Crimea feared as first step in Russian land grab.” Amazingly, Maddow and her guest never once addressed the fact that Russia is reacting, at least in part, to non-stop anti-Russian activity by the United States and NATO in countries that border Russia. Not one word, not even about Kosovo, the territory that broke away, with lots of help from the American military, from Russian-allied Serbia.

Maddow does a great job with domestic stories about the rights of minorities. She has helped shine a light on the dirty governing style of Chris Christie, an elected official who arguably is even more piggish than Putin.

“But why is she harping on the Russian menace, given the fact that American foreign policy is even more pernicious?” I asked Swamp Rabbit. “Sounds like she’s playing into the hands of the neocons who have pressured Barack Obama into talking like a Cold Warrior. Not that he needed much pressure.”

“Well, there’s your answer,” the rabbit said.

Footnote: If you want to start to put Crimea in perspective, read this piece in Foreign Affairs instead of watching dumb-ass TV, as I made the mistake of doing last night.

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Do as we say, Russia, not as we do

If I read one more time that President Obama thinks Russia’s support for a referendum on the status of Crimea “violates international law,” I’ll scream. This will mean nothing, because I live in a swamp and only my friend Swamp Rabbit and a few birds will hear me. But still, where is the mainstream media on this?

How can any self-respecting reporter quote Barack Obama’s contention in Paragraph 2 without stating in Paragraph 3 that our country has, on dozens of occasions since World War II, taken military action against sovereign states that posed no threat to the US of A? How can she or he not mention that, in the opinion of many, the invasion of Iraq — the most egregious 21st century example of U.S. imperial aggression — more or less disqualified U.S. politicians from invoking international law?

I’m not defending Vladimir Putin’s style of governance — I’ll take Pussy Riot over Putin any day. The point is that the United States can threaten or cajole Russia on the Ukraine controversy, but it can’t pretend to stand on principle. The appropriate response when we hear Obama or that dolt John Kerry complain that it is morally wrong of Russia to reclaim Crimea is, “Shut the f**k up, you ponderous, self-serving hypocrite.”

When the Obama administration attempts to bring Dick Cheney and his mascot/mouthpiece George W. Bush to justice for war crimes — that’s when the world might begin to take seriously America’s moral outrage over Russia’s pressure on Ukraine.

As Swamp Rabbit said, quoting Buddy Holly quoting John Wayne in The Searchers, “That’ll be the day.”

Posted in history, humor, Iraq war, liar, mainstream media, Obama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A buy from Amazon is a vote for wage slavery

Innovation, exploitation... hey, what's the difference?

Innovation, exploitation… hey, what’s the difference if you’re Jeff Bezos?

I read a piece in Salon about Amazon’s business model and almost throttled my friend Swamp Rabbit, I guess because he was the only creature in sight. But I was glad to see that at least one media writer wasn’t treating Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos like a rock star, or calling him an e-commerce innovator.

I call him a jobs killer and the overseer of a vast corporate plantation. Amazon has helped destroy countless retail jobs in its campaign to make bricks-and-mortar stores obsolete. Ironically, the mail-order monster Bezos created to replace those stores depends on bricks-and-mortar warehouses where people work for poverty-level wages at jobs much more exhausting than anything in retail.

Bezos and his minions would have you believe the poor wages and brutal conditions are all for the good, because they help ensure the happiness of Amazon customers. His “customercentric” philosophy is at the root of what the Salon writer called

…a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dexterous employees will begin to fail. As at Walmart, there is a pervasive “three strikes and you’re out” culture, and when these marginal employees acquire too many demerits (“points”), they are fired…

And there was this from New Republic, written soon after Amazon took over The Washington Post:

… The company that made [Bezos] one of the richest men in the world has… exacerbated the growth of the low-wage economy, to the point where the president feels the need to celebrate an increase in warehouse jobs that will pay barely more than minimum wage. (Fun fact uncovered by the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. two years ago: Instead of paying for air-conditioning at some Pennsylvania warehouses, Amazon had just stationed paramedics outside to take the inevitably heat-stressed workers to the hospital.)

“That’s exploitation, not innovation,” I said to the rabbit, who was sipping from a bottle of Wild Turkey with his feet next to the wood stove in my shack. “And most people who patronize Amazon are exploiters, too.”

“Ain’t you the righteous one,” the rabbit said. “So how come you used Amazon last month to order that new Dave Eggers book?”

“Because of the rotten winter. I would have had to hitch a ride all the way to Philly in the snow to find it at a bookstore. There aren’t as many as there used to be, you know, thanks to Amazon’s Kindle.”

He twitched his nose and assumed an ironic tone. “So you’re against using Amazon except when it ain’t convenient to not use it.”

“Except when it’s impossible to do not use it,” I said. “This is not a perfect world, you dumb rodent.”

The rabbit’s laughter was high-pitched, like a munchkin’s. “Bullshit,” he said. “You’re either on the bus or you’re off it. You either feed the pig or you don’t.”

He took a big swig of bourbon and added, “You sound like one of them fake Democrats in Washington.”

“And you sound like a Luddite, rabbit.”

“That’s OK, Odd Man. I’d rather be a Luddite than a neoliberal.”

Posted in down and out, economic collapse, globalization, humor, mainstream media, plutocracy, The New Depression, unemployment | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Porn flick about Comcast would be called ‘Insatiable’

Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philly, looks like a giant zip drive... or something.

Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philly, looks like a giant zip drive… or something.

Swamp Rabbit and I were reading that Comcast, the nation’s No. 1 cable services 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 even 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.

Monopoly wouldn’t be possible without 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 media corporations don’t become so powerful they can avoid competition by buying the people who write the laws? And to make sure regulations regarding things like net neutrality don’t get wiped out by the courts?

Maybe the current FCC commissioners and the DoJ have decided today’s media monsters are too big to have to abide by quaint anti-trust laws. In the case of Comcast and TWC, we should know by the end of the year.

Footnote: If the goal is to own all the infrastructure, or “pipes,” then why did Comcast bother to consume NBC Universal, a “content” provider, last year?

Because it could, you dummy,” Swamp Rabbit said.

Posted in campaign finance reform, City Paper, humor, life in the big city, mainstream media, Philadelphia | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Regarding Coca-Cola (corporate America’s rotgut)

mad as hell
I recently discussed with my friend Swamp Rabbit the sappy Coca-Cola commercial that features, as Guardian UK put it, “a multi-lingual rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’ sung by children and illustrated with a diversity of New Americana scenes…” The usual bigots and bumpkins condemned the ad because it seemed to promote multiculturalism. GOP zany Allen West was disappointed that “a company as American as Coca-Cola” didn’t do an English-only ad.

Liberals also registered indignation. As Guardian‘s Jill Filipovic noted, the aim of the ad was “to sell soda to rapidly-expanding but vulnerable populations, even if that means contributing to serious health problems, exploiting divides in class and education, and exacerbating racial inequality.” She added,

…consumers should have more affordable options, corporate advertising of unhealthy food should be regulated more tightly and Americans should be collectively enraged at our obscenely low wages and lack of a comprehensive social safety net – the things that create unhealthy, perverse incentives for consumers. It means we should cast a critical eye when soda companies fly the flag of diversity, when, in fact, their product contributes to stark racial inequalities.

Swamp Rabbit was sipping Wild Turkey from a dirty glass. He read the Guardian piece and said, “What’s this ‘should be’ and ‘cast a critical eye’? I thought she was gonna tell us how to bring down the flag-waving traitors who run the corporations that are wrecking the middle class and the poors for the sake of higher profits.”

I shook my head and said, “She’s a liberal, don’t you know? Liberals in our time like to complain about injustice, but they always stop short of advocating the sort of actions that would put an end to corporate bribery, tax-dodging and exploitation of workers.”

I reminded the rabbit that Coca-Cola and other mega-corporations are permitted to operate like quasi-autonomous entities, not bound by ordinary laws. Coke’s CEO has bitched about the company’s “very large tax burden” in the United States but, as Bud Meyers blogged:

… In actuality, Coca-Cola enjoys very low federal taxes, and pays a lower tax rate than most Americans. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, in 2011 the company’s federal tax expense was $470 million, which was only 6.5 percent of the $7.2 billion in pre-tax profits that Coca-Cola reported that year. It’s odd that Coke’s CEO would complain about taxes when the statutory corporate tax rate hadn’t been lower than what Coke paid for over 100 years.

The bigots are too stupid to understand the Coca-Cola ad was nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy. The liberals are too timid to admit nothing will change until we radically alter the rotten political system that allows multinational corporations and super-rich individuals to exist above the law, with enormous amounts of revenue stashed in offshore tax havens.

Swamp Rabbit twitched his nose and said, “Government these days ain’t nothin’ but legalized bribery. What we need is a revolution.”

Then he popped the zip top on an aluminum can and poured some Coke on his bourbon.

Footnote: I thought of the Coke commercial after reading about the publication of Dave Itzkoff’s book Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies, which is largely about prophetic screenwriter Paddy Cheyevsky, who invented Howard Beale, the big screen’s most amusing enemy of corporate America.

Posted in arts, campaign finance reform, Congress, down and out, globalization, humor, mainstream media, movies, Occupy Wall Street, plutocracy, The New Depression, world-wide economy | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments