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

Virginia Woolf almost does the Super Bowl


So dismayed by the Broncos, she didn't even file a story

Dismayed by the Broncos, she retreated to Bloomsbury without filing a story

Most years, I persuade a famous novelist to write a 500-word recap of the Super BowlDostoyevski and Faulkner, among others, have donned their sportswriters’ caps to appear in this space — but this year Virginia Woolf phoned at halftime to say she was backing out, the Seahawks were up 22-zip. “Stick a fork in the Broncos, they’re done,” Virginia sniffed. “I’m boarding the next steamer back to Bloomsbury.”

I was devastated but hunkered down in the swamp shack to finish watching the game on my laptop and record my own impressions. Swamp Rabbit reluctantly continued to watch with me. Our eyes glazed over. The Seahawks ran hard, passed the ball well, intercepted and generally kicked ass. The second half was a boring brainless rout. Final score, 43-8. Peyton Manning looked like he might cry.

The rabbit started drinking early and can only remember that the guys wearing orange kept getting knocked sideways. That and the halftime show, a frantic splash of song and dance, the musical equivalent of throwing paint at a canvas.

Today he said, “I recall some little feller named Bruno Mars imitatin’ James Brown and gettin’ mobbed by a buncha half-nekked yahoos called the Red Hot Chile Peppers. Or was that just a bad dream?”

“That was the real deal,” I told him. “Those are some big-name, A-list acts, you dumb rodent.”

“I seen high school marchin’ bands was more original,” the rabbit said, reaching for the last slice of Super Bowl cake I stole at the Super Fridge before the game.

“Don’t be a snark,” I said, “The halftime show had cute kids, soldier videos, power ballads, fireworks, apple pie. What you got against those things? Remember what Virginia Woolf said: ‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life.’”

“I ain’t avoidin’ life,” the rabbit replied. “Just tryin’ to avoid football fans.”

Footnote: The only interesting musician who turned up was Bob Dylan, but that was just for a stupid-ass car commercial.

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‘Ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser’ Pete Seeger dies


seeger

I was away from the swamp, stealing potatoes at the local Super Fridge, when I heard about Pete Seeger. This will be a rough day, I thought. Swamp Rabbit is an old leftie with a soft spot for New Deal-influenced folksingers, and Seeger, 94, was the last of that breed. Sure enough, the pesky rodent was weeping next to the wood stove when I got back to the shack. He drank Wild Turkey while I put the taters on the fire. Then we surfed for obits and skimmed old books.

The Associated Press used the phrase “ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser” and found a non-musical way to sum up the difference between Seeger and the only other folksinger, pre-Bob Dylan, who would have as big an influence on popular music:

On the skin of Seeger’s banjo was the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” — a nod to his old pal [Woody] Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with “This machine kills fascists.”

The record will show that Seeger was as brave and well-respected as he was peace-loving. Dylan alluded to this in his memoir Chronicles: Volume One, while describing the day he was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond:

Recently [Hammond] had brought Pete Seeger to the label. He didn’t discover Pete, though. Pete had been around for years. He’d been in the popular folk group The Weavers, but had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era and had a hard time, but he never stopped working. Hammond was defiant when he spoke about Seeger, that Pete’s ancestors had come over on the Mayflower, that his relatives had fought the Battle of Bunker Hill, for Christsake. “Can you imagine those sons of bitches blacklisting him? They should be tarred and feathered.”

Seeger had been blacklisted after testifying before the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee. He had politely told the honorables to fuck off:

I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.

Then we read that Seeger “lost his cool” in 1965 because Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival and the noise drowned out Dylan’s words. It was a familiar story, gossiped about many times.

“I forgave him for that,” I said. “Dylan’s show must have been a shock to a guy who was born more than 30 years before rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Well now, Pete’s ghost must be sighin’ with relief,” the rabbit replied. “Who gives a shit who you forgive?”

We read about Seeger’s inspiring appearance at Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and wondered whether Barack Obama would mention in his State of the Union address that Seeger’s life and art were exactly in sync with the social democratic policies that boosted the quality of life in mid-20th century America. Policies that have been under constant attack since Ronald Reagan took office.

“Oh sure,” the rabbit said. “Then the Democrats and Republicans is gonna hold hands and sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Hold the taters, you twit. Just pass me another bottle.”

Posted in arts, Great Depression, history, humor, mainstream media, Obama, Occupy Wall Street, pop music, The New Depression | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

50 years after ‘Strangelove,’ Gen. Jack Ripper on drugs


Sterling Hayden as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper in 'Dr. Strangelove'

Sterling Hayden as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper

This January marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. From a New Yorker story about the mainstream critics who dismissed the movie’s storyline as implausible:

Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. [Director Stanley] Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove”‘s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war…

The Cold War is over and nobody got nuked, so the chances of a nuclear catastrophe caused by a mistake or a rogue officer are slim to none, right? If you think so, you haven’t been following the recent Air Force scandal:

A US Air Force investigation into illegal drug use by officers charged with overseeing and launching nuclear missiles expanded on Wednesday when the military announced the suspension of dozens of additional officers for cheating on proficiency exams.

The cheating came to light during the investigation of the drug scandal, the Air Force said. The drug probe was first announced last Thursday.

In all, 11 Air Force officers are suspected of illegal drug use, and 34 officers have been implicated in cheating, according to the military…

Brilliant political satires do more than caricature people who wield too much power. They make it clear that a caricature, in some cases, can be the same thing as a realistic portrait.

I’m thinking of all the primary cast members in Dr. Strangelove, but especially of George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson — “Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines” — and Sterling Hayden as Brigadier Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who is convinced fluoridated water is at the heart of a Commie plot to pollute our “precious bodily fluids.” As if our home-grown coal industry isn’t perfectly capable of polluting us on its own.

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