I believe William Rivers Pitts has captured my emotions near perfectly about the non-debate debate the Democrats presented to the public as a glittery, whiz-bang Vegas-finish politically-correct success extravaganza (but at least it was much more a cutesy hit-the-light-fantastic song-and-dance between friends than a bombs-exploding-over-Hiroshima nightmare number that's become incredibly Republican politico palate pleasing).
Not that every time Bernie was given a moment in which to speak, immensely credible facts and figures didn't emanate forth, and sensible plans to reform the system weren't clearly enunciated (too bad the "debate" format stopped any type of meaningful exchange of ideas between Bernie and Hillary - under the watchful eye of an unbiased moderator, of course).
But as the tone of the carney barker made clear, it's all crazy talk from the guy who wants to promote programs that benefit mainly the 99% - so let's hurry on over and turn our attention to the real candidate(s) who can be counted on to speak seriously for both sides.
What we were made to imbibe ultimately, of course, is that we were just witnessing a colorful circus act put on for the easily-entertained-by-nonsense American audience (the ones that can afford cable or satellite TV, anyway), who were told subtly that the real candidates have already been chosen behind closed doors and that they should just get on board, get used to it, or get excited by the flashing lights and cannon booms and work for the most novel (or most like themselves) candidate - a black guy last time and a woman this time - for their continued ennoblement.
The rest of the potential viewers (over the coming years) will just have to get used to the idea that watching and listening to the actual exchange of information among political candidates (and their interlocutors), called debates but really anything but, will now be something they cannot afford.
In a timely fashion.
Unless they have access to the internet and an expensive fast connection.
(And then, hopefully - for the owners - they'll just go away and have another beer.)
Anderson Cooper made damn sure Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders answered the question ... and then he got to Clinton, and gave her a pass. The softball was pitched to her underhand at low speed. Cooper may as well have asked her how she felt about kittens, or what her favorite color was, or which way is up. It was another cheap evasion, an accent in the symphony of cheap evasions that was the entire evening.
By the way, no, I am not going to tell you that CNN had that thing in the bag for Clinton before the lights came on, because I have no solid evidence to support such a contention. Sure, she got let off the hook a dozen times by the moderator, and sure, the audience was clearly packed with her supporters, and sure, CNN has been working overtime ever since to scourge its website of anything suggesting Bernie Sanders got the better of the exchange, and sure, the "news" coverage of her performance makes it sound like she walked across water before making it into wine while healing lepers and raising the dead, and sure, if she had barfed on the podium after eating her shoe on live TV, the "pundits" would still be saying she earned a "decisive victory," but like I said, I have no solid evidence to support such a contention.
I will say this much: I have been watching presidential debates for more than 30 years, and I have never seen anything so preposterous. I know it was at a Vegas casino, but jeez, please apprehend a slim modicum of gravitas. The lights, the colors, the raging graphics rolling up and down the wall, the pop star singing the anthem. I've seen World Wrestling Federation commercials with more style and grace. This wasn't a poker tournament or the buggy races at the local dirt track. This was a national debate to help determine who will be the Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States. CNN managed to turn it into some half-assed dance video.
As far as the substance of the affair went ... whatever, man. I actually appreciate the GOP debates more now. Sure, they're crypto-fascist misogynistic Jesus-shouting brigands, but they don't try to hide it. It's actually refreshing to see them stand forth and be recognized, proudly. At least they're not lying, or being slippery. I like an enemy I can see.
One example: Lincoln Chafee, who was a Republican in 2002, was the only GOP senator to vote against the Iraq War Resolution. He tagged Clinton on her pro-war vote. Her answer, condensed: Well, Obama likes me, so there, and also Osama bin Laden used to exist and he was very bad! Easiest out in US politics, and she got away with it.
Every candidate had a parade of neat ideas, but offered nary a word on how to pay for them ... and boy howdy, you better believe the bloated "defense" budget didn't get mentioned once, not one time, as a source of funding for all those bright ideas.
One moment that stood out: Anderson Cooper asked the CNN-est question possible: What is the greatest threat to our country? Chafee said the Middle East, O'Malley said Iran and ISIL, Clinton said loose nukes, Webb said China ... and Bernie Sanders said climate change, and nailed his answer to the shed. Politicians have been getting elected by bugabooing about foreign threats since Caesar sat his throne. Sanders knows the ocean is coming, and said so in a nationally televised debate. It was good to hear.
There were several moments when the thing sounded for all the world like an Occupy rally, and you can thank Occupy for that. 1% this and 1% that, and never mind that most of that stage was "occupied" by candidates who took, take and will continue to take massive contributions from the same Wall Street steam shovels that plowed our economy into the ground and stole our future, to their great profit.
Talk is cheap, unless you're a mega-donor. Then it's expensive, but if you back the right horse, the payback for that investment is beyond your wildest dreams.
Anyway, here's the deal in brief: We're screwed. The sad murder of crows that is the GOP field is one thing, but if that Democratic debate is the future of politics in the United States, we may as well throw a rope around the country and sling it into the sun. The end result will be exactly the same.
Speaking of being screwed by our "own" people. (Not that this system wasn't set up decades ago by Greenspan & Co. and other Reaganites of the time (and whose people were they?), long before the Austerity-enforced abnormally low interest rates of today - stemming from their 30-year-old failed policies - or that there is very little chance to change it now to be a more reasonably precise measurement due to the makeup and power of the congressional committees (who are on record as wishing old people would just die in order to improve the system's finances, meaning that this mismeasure may work out for them).
Have you seen the latest statistics on work?
I swear (according to these figures) everyone must have a great job now or be retired on a large golden-goosedown comforter. Because, really, how many people are not included in these numbers, whom we know are looking for any type of decent job as frantically as the people I run into all the time? (Millions most probably.)
The wonks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics regaled us first thing this morning with their latest consumer price index. It fell 0.2% in September. Year over year, it’s flat.
But that’s not the number the Social Security Administration uses to decide what cost-of-living adjustment Social Security recipients get each year. Instead, it relies on CPI-W — a measure of the cost of living for urban workers. (Never mind that most Social Security recipients aren’t working — this is the government we’re talking about.) CPI-W has fallen 0.4% over the last year.
Moments after the BLS issued its report, the Social Security Administration confirmed what we forecast three months ago — no COLA for 2016.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, any resemblance between the CPI and your own cost of living is purely coincidental.
John Williams at Shadow Government Statistics runs the inflation numbers the way the government did during the Carter administration — when inflation raged north of 10%. He says this morning the year-over-year increase works out to 7.6%.
How did the numbers stray so far from reality during the ensuing 35 years? It started with one of those “bipartisan blue-ribbon panels” the government forms now and then to “solve” urgent problems. In this case, the Greenspan Commission was named by President Reagan to fix Social Security’s looming insolvency.
One of the panel’s solutions was to jigger the way inflation was measured. A lower inflation rate means a lower COLA — which buys more time before Social Security goes broke.
Pardon us if you’re already familiar with the methods used to rig the numbers, but if you’re a newer reader, you might find methods like these and the “reasoning” behind them rather eye-opening …
How times have changed: A decade ago, it was only cranky newsletter editors who deigned to suggest the government’s inflation numbers were rigged. “Respectable” journalists and think-tank types suggested the likes of us be outfitted for tinfoil hats.
- Hedonic adjustments. If the price of a new car goes up, but the manufacturers add new features to the new models, well then the price of a new car hasn’t really gone up, has it?
- Substitution. If you start buying hamburger because steak is too expensive, well, your price of beef hasn’t really gone up, has it?
Now those very same journalists and think-tank types are coming around: “Inflation has fallen sharply over the past year mainly because of a plunge in gasoline costs,” says a no-COLA dispatch this morning at MarketWatch. “Yet while all Americans benefit, seniors tend to drive less and not save as much because of cheaper gas.”
Also not buying into the BS is an outfit called "Social Security Works": “You would be hard-pressed to find a senior who has not seen the cost of medical care, prescription drugs, food and other necessities go up,” writes its co-founder Nancy Altman at "Huffington Post." “The shortcomings of the measure for Social Security are obvious.”
Ms. Altman belongs to the crowd that insists Social Security isn’t going broke. We disagree strongly on that score — David Stockman figures it has only until 2026 before payments have to be slashed — but there’s no arguing about understated inflation.
And then there’s the Medicare screw job that results from the flat COLA — something we mentioned last month.
Under the law, if there’s no COLA in a given year, about 70% of Medicare recipients are spared the usual annual increase in Part B premiums.
But Medicare’s Part B costs keep going up … and it’s the remaining 30% of Medicare recipients who have to eat all of those additional costs. As a practical matter, that means a leap in Part B premiums from roughly $105 a month to $159 a month come January — even more if you have a high income.
The exact figures haven’t been announced yet. If you’re unsure whether you’re among the unlucky 30%, you can examine our original expose.
Don’t expect a quick fix from Congress — not when they’re still at loggerheads over the debt ceiling.
This morning, the Treasury moved up the drop-dead date when Uncle Sam might default on a debt payment — it’s now Nov. 3.
I've always enjoyed Matt Taibbi's juicy insights.
(I just hope he makes it through the revolution.)
He's very afraid of Rupert Murdoch.
Matt Taibbi, "Rolling Stone"
For Murdoch and "Fox," the chickens might be coming home to roost
t all comes back to Rupert Murdoch. As multiple recent news stories have proven, the 2016 presidential race is fast becoming a referendum on the News Corp CEO and reigning media gorgon.
The two top candidates in the Republican field are a "Fox News" contributor (Ben Carson opened his "Fox" career two years ago comparing Obama to Lenin) and a onetime "Fox" favorite who is fast becoming the network's archenemy: Donald Trump is the fallen angel in the "Fox" story, a traitor who's trying to tempt away Murdoch's lovingly nurtured stable of idiot viewers by denouncing their favorite "news" network as a false conservative God.
The fact that Trump is succeeding with this message on some level has to be a source of terrible stress to Murdoch. He must be petrified at the prospect of losing his hard-won viewership at the end of his life.
This, in turn, might explain last week. Otherwise: what was Rupert Murdoch doing tweeting?
Murdoch owns or controls print, cable and film outlets in so many places that his cultural and political views are fast becoming a feature of global geography. The sun never sets on his broadcast empire, a giant hovering Death Star that's been firing laser cannons of "Rupert Murdoch's Many Repellent Thoughts About Stuff" at planet Earth for decades now.
Yet Murdoch apparently still doesn't feel like he's getting his point across. At 8:59 p.m. last Wednesday night, the 84 year-old scandal-sheet merchant had to turn to Twitter to offer his personal opinion on Ben Carson and the American presidential race. To recap: "Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide?"
Forget for a minute what Murdoch said. Think about the why.
The network spent years exhaustively building and tweaking Obama's supervillain persona, almost always employing this Two-Face theme. The president in "Fox" lore is superficially a polite, intelligent, "articulate" American politician who sounds on the level. But in the end, "Fox" tells us, Obama will always be unable to control the envious, Christian-fearing, success-hating African Marxist Terrorist in control of his subconscious.
Murdoch's relentless message has been that Obama isn't just impure, but overcompensatingly impure. He's forever accusing the president of designing policies to redistribute white wealth as a means of proving his solidarity. And when "Fox" talks about Obama's race, the caricature is always that he's a secret street hood straining uncomfortably in politician clothes.
Rupert Murdoch has spent seven to eight years finding every conceivable way to say that Barack Obama isn't one of us. The president is forever described as a kind of malevolent animal, unable to control his irrepressible urge to take and redistribute the white man's property. His hatred of Christians, too, is uncontrollable, a result of his early Muslim indoctrination.
So after blasting out this ocean of repulsive, underhanded and frankly racist bilge over the course of years, Murdoch still thought we hadn't got the message that Obama isn't a "real black president."
Forget about Barack Obama's psyche; the fact that Murdoch thought he had to hit this same vicious rhetorical note one more time in a personal tweet at 9 at night at the age of 84 says a lot about Murdoch's own pathology. .
Speaking of Trump: The orangutoid real estate mogul's presence in this presidential race is a real and hilarious threat to Murdoch's political influence, at least in the United States. The on-again, off-again romance between "Fox" and Trump seems destined to end in permanent divorce, which could force Murdoch into a serious conundrum, because Trump has essentially been calling out Murdoch's own "realness."
Until Trump arrived, Murdoch owned the lowest common denominator in the media space. He didn't just play to our worst instincts, he wrapped both arms around them and squeezed as hard as he could.
Some people think the media business is tough, but think of it like teaching preschool. There's a whole range of strategies, but one of them, guaranteed to work, is walking into class every morning and handing out giant tubs of ice cream. The Fox lineup is the media equivalent of this: a giant pile of tits, explosions and football.
All media companies do this to varying degrees, but Murdoch's brilliant insight, the one that made "Fox" the voice of 'Murica, is that the lowest common denominator can be extended beyond entertainment, to ideology and politics.
Murdoch sold political coverage that could be digested directly by the stomach, bypassing the mind. He fed viewers a steady diet of Southern Strategy bromides about minorities and foreigners and queers and feminists and Sean Penn, all working together to steal the minivan out of Middle America's driveway.
From a production standpoint, this coverage strategy is a beautifully utilitarian thing. The stuff writes itself, and you don't really need to agonize over things like facts, just putt somewhere near the cup. You win by picking five to six news stories each week that fit the narrative, and just hammering the hell out of them.
In no time, every retirement home in America will be tuned in (half of Murdoch's news viewers are 68 or older), and your advertisers will be able to suck money out of the elderly and the desperate even more efficiently than do casinos.
Murdoch's genius is that he always found ways to hit new lows without hitting absolute bottom. . But he's been careful to never go there, likely not because it's wrong, but because that next step scares advertisers – just ask Glenn Beck.
Along comes Trump, who wants not just to cross that invisible line, but race past it. He's pitching voters on the idea that Rupert's news network is a sellout establishment plant because it won't go there, and a good number of them are buying.
At present, Murdoch's people seem desperately to want to plead "nolo contendre" on Trump's crazier comments. "Fox" personnel have reportedly been instructed to stay away from Trump's "blood coming out of her wherever" line about anchor Megyn Kelly. Disturbingly, but also darkly ironically, viewer emails have reportedly all been on Trump's side.
Neither Ailes nor Murdoch are too dense to know what this means. They know they've spent a generation building an audience of morons. Their business model depends on morons; morons are the raw materials of their industry, the way Budweiser is in the hops business.
The problem with morons is that you can do a pretty good business asking each one for a dollar to keep them safe from the giant asteroid that is going to land in their living rooms tomorrow. But even an American starts to get suspicious after 30 or 40 years of tomorrows.
You have to keep upping the ante to make it work. Trump is doing his best, but he's going to places now that make even Rupert Murdoch nervous. Meanwhile the "respectable" candidate is "Fox"'s own Ben Carson, a man who continues to be living proof that you don't need to have a brain in order to operate on one.
Carson's latest gem is that the Holocaust could have been prevented if only the Jews had been armed, a line so dumb that it would have been cut from a Zucker brothers movie. Six months ago Rupert Murdoch dismissed the loony neurosurgeon in an amusingly condescending tweet. "Wonderful character, up from Detroit ghetto, sadly seems political naïf," he wrote. But now he's clinging to Carson as his best hope to stay in the game.
I think Rupert Murdoch fired off those desperate tweets last week because he senses his beloved audience of idiots drifting away. They are beginning to suspect the truth about him, i.e., that he isn't really one of them: They may finally sense that he's a foreigner, that he wouldn't be caught dead eating pork rinds, that he knows what the word "naïf" means.
Murdoch could go lower to prove his devotion, but that next step down is Trump. If he balks at that, he might lose his audience. Beautiful. Here's to hoping that any choice he makes will end in disaster. Nobody has ever deserved it more.
Good luck, Matt!
And here's Bernie!