Roaming Charges: Welcome to the Malarky Factory

Farm, Clatskanie, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Joe Biden is by no means a smooth politician, but over the course of five decades in office he has mastered the art of the political bait-and-switch, a sleight of hand which has come to define the operating profile of so many Democratic bosses in the age of neoliberalism.

+ This week Biden proclaimed that, as a president who wants to “avoid inflaming a closely divided Congress,” he plans to “tread lightly when it comes to using his executive power.” Biden seems very confident that his passivity won’t “inflame” any of the remaining progressives in a “closely divided Congress.” Biden’s been on or around Capitol Hill for 45 years and he hasn’t witnessed any uprising from the Congressional left yet. He must feel he’s on pretty safe ground.

+ Starting on his first day, Trump tried to implement as many of his campaign pledges as possible, starting with the craziest stuff (like the Muslim ban) first. He lies constantly, but was true to his politics, aberrant as it is. It’s why his base believes “he tells it like it is.” Biden also remains true to his politics but lies to his base about what his real politics is. It’s why he is already retreating from almost every campaign pledge, except having a racially & sexually diverse cabinet, which he hides behind as he defaults to his core neoliberalism.

+ One of the biggest failures of the #MeToo Movement is that the misogynistic Larry Summers, the Biden Whisperer, still has a national platform to spread his austerity propaganda with a smug grin, even as millions face having their heat shut off or being evicted from their homes…

+ It appears Biden, following Summers’ advice, played a key backroom role in convincing the Democrats to settle for the $600 stimulus checks.

+ Can there be any question that the implementation of his brutish economic Summers has damaged the lives of many thousands more women than Epstein, Weinstein and the rest of the A-list sexual predators made to walk a perp line in the last four years?

+ $70 billion: the estimated amount of overdue rent in the USA.

+ Conrad’s Nostromo is one of those encyclopedic novels where you can pluck a quote for nearly every political situation. Here’s today’s: “They are paying you with words.”

+ Speaking of AOC, I’ve never been one of her most ardent admirers, but I’m somewhat mystified by the rabidity of the attacks on her from the Jimmy Dore (née Sputnik) Left, which seem nearly as hysterical (not to mention sexist) as those launched from the Alex Jones Right. AOC is what she is, a reformer trapped in a party impervious to reform. The only real power AOC and her cohorts have is to primary old-guard Democrats and they’ve notched an impressive number of wins. Evicting Elliot Engel from Congress was the most satisfying moment of the campaign year from my seat in the leftfield bleachers.  Dore never subjected his heroine Tulsi Gabbard’s record to this kind of excoriating critique, even as she fronted for Biden’s heinous foreign policy record.

+ By the way, I’m all for overthrowing Pelosi and forcing a vote in the House for Medicare-for-All. I don’t think Jimmy Dore is the messenger for making that happen, which may, in fact, be why he’s the messenger, if you get my drift.

+ Ralph Nader: “Useful comparison: A handful of giant corporations have spent $8 trillion in unproductive stock buybacks since 2009. In the midst of Covid-19 pandemic needs, the U.S. government has budgeted $4 trillion for the American people. Corporate capitalism a-wasting.”

+ You may get $600 (if you’re lucky), but Juan Guaidó and Co. stand to get $33 million to continue their aberrant quest to overthrow the Maduro government…

+ Justin Amash: “I’ve spent ten years warning about the erosion of representative democracy resulting from increasingly centralized power, but even I didn’t imagine a Congress that would be handed a 5,593-page bill at 1:46 p.m., vote on it at 7:35 p.m., and then brag about the good job they did.”

+ $0.08: the hourly rate for the $600 Covid relief payment over the course of the pandemic to date.

+ So how far does $600 go in Portland? Ave monthly rent: $1600; ave utilities: $200, ave. public transportation: $100; food $300…$2200 a month. If my math is in the ballpark that will get you through 8 days, if skip your health insurance payments.

+ Brett Chapman: “Let me put this bipartisan $600 stimulus deal by Congress in context: I am a member of the Pawnee Nation, a small Native American nation of about 3500 people. I got $4000 in COVID relief money from our tribal government. That actually helped. Our federal government is broken.”

+ Trump in a nutshell: Setting up a high-speed assembly-line of federal executions of brain damaged men and a woman who’d been molested and tortured, while pardoning mercenaries who shot into a crowded public square killing women and children.

+ Revoltingly, Trump has pardoned soldiers and US mercenaries who committed war crimes in Iraq. Obama didn’t even bother trying to prosecute their superiors, who told numerous lies to send them there, supervised their atrocities and then helped cover them up. I don’t know which is worse. But both are fully consistent with the arc of American history.

+ There was more outrage over the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence than there’s been for Trump’s pardon of Blackwater’s child-killer mercenaries, who committed the kind of civilian-slaughtering war crimes Manning and Julian Assange exposed.

+ Even after Manning received her much-belated sentence commutation from Obama, she was still subsequently harassed, fined and jailed by the feds. Some might call it torture.

+ In a way, you can understand Trump’s pardon of the Blackwater child-killers. Their prosecution was pushed by the Pentagon in order to make their actions seem like aberrations, when in fact similar atrocities were happening every day. There have been more than 200,000 civilians killed in Iraq, including 850 this year alone, each death a homicide. The war was the crime and, across three presidencies, its political architects, Pentagon managers, congressional funders, and journalistic enablers have gotten off scot free. In fact, most of them have been rewarded for their lethal complicity.

+ In response to what he considered the unduly punitive sentence handed to Lt. William Calley for his role in My Lai massacre, Jimmy Carter, then Gov. of Georgia, instituted American Fighting Man’s Day, and asked Georgians to drive with their headlights on for a week ..

+ Most of Jimmy Carter’s glorious moments came after he left the White House. We’re still experiencing the repercussions from several of his more inglorious moments…

+ Does Trump’s pardon of Manafort include his work whitewashing the butchery of Mobutu? Or did that already enjoy the blessing of the Agency?

+ Just to remind you of the things Charles Kushner, who Trump pardoned today, was up to during his financial crime spree: “Kushner paid a prostitute $10,000 to lure his brother-in-law to a motel room … to have sex with him. A hidden camera recorded the activity, and Kushner sent the lurid tape to his sister, making sure the tape arrived on the day of a family party.”

+ Chris Christie, who prosecuted Kushner, told PBS that: “It’s one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted…. And I was a US attorney in New Jersey…so we had some loathsome and disgusting crime going on there.” Takes one to really know one, I guess.

+ Trump also pardoned Stephanie C. Mohr, a former Prince Georges County, Maryland canine patrol cop, who had a horrific, and racially-motivated, record of ordering her police dog to attack unarmed black and Latino men.

+ Another of Trump’s pardons was for Rep. Phil Lyman, the Utah Republican, who led 50 ATV riders on an illegal convoy through federal lands in Utah, which are closed to motorized traffic to protect Native American cliff dwellings.

+ Radley Balko: “As of now, Trump has granted fewer clemencies than any president since Garfield, who was assassinated 6 months into office. Among presidents who served at least one full term, you have to go back to John Adams. And of course, all but a handful of Trump’s pardons are self-serving.”

+ Does a guy like Trump who has never read history really care how he goes down in it?

+ An analysis by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith found that of the 45 pardons or commutations that Trump had granted from the beginning of his term through Tuesday of this week, 88 percent benefited someone with a personal tie to the president or advanced his political agenda.

+ But do you really want priggish  crime-and-punishment Democrats like Chris Murphy running the show?

+ The pardon power is one of the few things the Constitution got absolutely right. Its application needs to be expanded not restricted, starting with commutation of sentences for the 200,000 people in federal prison on nonviolent offenses.

+ Usually, the Democratic presidents start backsliding on Day Two. For Biden, it’s Day Minus 40. Welcome to the Malarky Factory….”Top advisers to President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday they will not immediately roll back asylum restrictions at the Mexican border and other Trump immigration policies.”

+ Resign or pre-resign, I guess.

+ The near-final deportation numbers are in and Obama retains his crown as Deporter-in-Chief. According to figures compiled by the Migration Policy Institute, Trump removed about 935,000 people during his four-year term, compared with nearly 1.6 million during Obama’s first term.

+ Obama prompted the flood immigrants and asylum-seekers, many of them children (subsequently caged), by conniving in the Honduran coup of 2009, the savage aftershocks of which continue to reverberate across Latin America.

+ Even so, the situation on the border remains deadly. This year the remains of 225 migrants trying to cross the Arizona desert have been discovered, making it the deadliest year on record. This is a significant spike from the previous years:

2019  – 144
2018  – 128
2017  – 124

+ The COVID relief bill passed by Congress includes another $1.375 billion for Trump’s border wall. Relax, when Biden starts supervising the construction, the Democrats will be calling it a “fence” again…

+ In Pennsylvania, $108 million in CARES Act money meant for housing vulnerable people facing eviction will be sent instead to the state’s Department of Corrections.

+ Meanwhile, the suppliers of tear gas and other “less-lethal” munitions to the Portland Police Bureau received several million dollars in COVID-relief loans.

+ $11 Billion: the amount of nuclear power-related subsidies in the COVID-relief bill.

+ According to a Pew poll,  4 in 10 Americans say they would “definitely” or “probably” not get a COVID vaccine.

+ The Barr Justice Department has been hiring private contractors as executioners during its end-of-term killing spree, paying the killers in cash to keep the payments off the books. (I’m reminded of Thomas Cromwell hiring a French swordsman to decapitate Ann Boleyn, though that was done as an act of compassion, after the off-target swats of drunken English axe-wielders at previous executions.)

+ The cross-fertilization of inhumane policies between the US and Israel is so pervasive now its hard to discern who took what from whom…

+ All things considered, the majority of Cubans have fared better under the ongoing criminal blockade of the island than the residents of the country that imposed it…

+ When the former Money Honey, Maria Bartiromo, was a “toady” for some of the most vicious Wall Street predators, her colleagues all loved her. Only now that’s she’s latched herself on the caterwauling Trump are they beginning to “lose respect“….

+ It takes a special talent to get punked during a live interview by an animal rights activist pretending to be the hog-slaughtering CEO of Smithfield Foods.

+ In May, Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler made a covert push to subvert Democratic proposals to stop negative credit reporting during the COVID pandemic. Soon afterwards, her husband’s company (which Loeffler has a $9M stake in) engineered a $10 billion buyout of a major player in consumer credit data.

+ If you ever wondered why super-rich people go into politics, here’s a pretty clear explanation: a chronology of the insider stock trades by Georgia’s two senators…

+ According to a new GAO report, the US Navy’s next generation nuclear submarines are facing cost overruns and work delays from shoddy and inexperienced contractors. The good news is that so far the cost over-runs are only about 14%. The bad news: the GAO predicts the costs will soar 75% to 100%.

+ Speaking of nuclear subs, the Israeli Navy includes at least five German-built Dolphin and Dolphin-2 class diesel-electric submarines. There are credible reports that Israel has modified some or all of these submarines to carry Israeli-made nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles. (h/t Joe Cirincione).

+ Basic Rule for reading Washington Post and New York Times stories, especially about Iran, Russia or China: If it sounds preposterous, it probably is ….

+ When the much longed for “return to normal” means the bipartisan resumption of the Cold War….”Barr says Russia appears to be behind massive hawk.”

+ Big corporate landlords are responsible for nearly half of all evictions in Boston. Research by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council revealed that landlords who owned more than 100 units in Boston were responsible for 45% of all evictions in 2015 and 2016, even though they represented less than 0.5% of landlords in the market. These corporate landlords have shown themselves less likely to negotiate with tenants, a posture which could lead to an “eviction tsunami” in the next few months.

+ Meanwhile, Boston’s cops continue their “sick out,” with over 12% of its police force now on medical leave. More than a quarter of those have been on leave for over a year. These rates are 2 to 9 times that of other cities. The Boston Police Department claims it has no idea what’s going on. Really?

+ Marianne Williamson for head of DEA…

+ Through the first half of 2020, 43.4% of US adults ages 19 to 64 were inadequately insured.

+ A New Mexico retiree was billed thousands of dollars for gynecological tests she didn’t need, didn’t ask for, and didn’t know were being done. For-profit medicine at its most malign…

+ COVID infections are surging among grocery store workers in southern California. San Diego and Imperial Counties there were at total 24 cases among grocery store workers  in September. The number of infections has soared to 246 (so far) in December.

+ A message from Oaxaca, as American tourists begin their annual migrations south…

+ Through November, total deaths in the US have now exceeded three million in 2020, surpassing the previous record in a year, with COVID accounting for more than 10 percent of the deaths. There have already been 400,000 more deaths in the US than last year.

+ Rapid COVID tests for sale in Hong Kong’s subway system. Here the strategy was “let’s infect as many people as possible.” Both strategies (test/trace/isoloate and let it spread) some to have achieved their goals…

+ Hong Kong has experience 18 COVID deaths per million residents. By contrast, The USA has now topped the 1000 COVID deaths per million residents mark. Winning!

+ Camus: “Most people were chiefly aware of what ruffled the normal tenor of their lives or affected their interests. They were worried and irritated, but these are not feelings with which to confront plague.”

+ Alex Padilla, who Gavin Newsom picked to fill Kamala Harris’ seat in the US Senate, was one of 6 California Democrats who killed the state’s Single Payer health bill in the state legislature. The Hit Man gets his reward.

+ Barbara Lee, who many were urging Newsom to appoint, will never be forgiven for casting one of the most courageous votes in Congress, especially by her own party, even though she has made numerous compromises with the Pelosi gang since then as acts of political contrition…

+ Once again, there will be no black women in the US senate.

+ The state of progressivism in America: 54 of the 97 members of the House “Progressive” Caucus voted for the $740 billion military budget for 2021 (HR 6395).

+ Sure, laugh if you want, but can the information spread by the podcaster who serves as Trump lawyer Sidney Powell’s “intelligence source” really be any more suspect than the stories told by the NYT podcasters behind “Caliphate“?

+ After receiving demand letters from Dominion and Smartmatic, Newsmax (aka, TrumpTV)  began running this humiliating retraction on all of its shows last weekend…(You can see why they hate the trial lawyers.)

+ “Rev.” Pat Robertson on Trump: “He lives in an alternate reality…very erratic…It’s time to move on.” When prophesy fails, don’t change the prophet, change your messiah…

+ Half a century ago, the Russian scientist Mikhail Budyko predicted 1°C of warming by the 2019 and the disappearance of about 50% of Arctic sea ice. At the end of 2020, there has been 0.98°C of warming and Arctic sea ice has declined by 46%.

+ Helicopter flyovers by the New Mexico Environment Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the methane emissions leak rate from oil wells has more than doubled this year across the entire Permian Basin, which stretches from West Texas to eastern New Mexico and contains some of the largest oil deposits in the world.

+ As tar sands mining declines, leaving behind an environmental disaster that may cost $260 billion to “clean up,” Alberta is planning new mountaintop-removal coal mines

+ If you’ve been naughty, I’ll let you shake my snow globe. If you’ve been really bad, I’ll even tell you its name.

+ The uneven and not entirely successful Billie Holiday documentary directed by James Erskine is still worth watching, if only to hear drummer Jo Jones eviscerate producer John Hammond, who fired Holiday from Count Basie’s band because she refused to play the role of blues-singing black mammy…

+ When Holiday is on screen she is memorizing, her incomparable voice freighted with history. Her voice speaks for itself, vividly narrates the ragged contours of her of life. If only the filmmakers had allowed Holiday to tell her own story, instead of recruiting others, many with impure motives, to speculate about and dissect the dark corners of her psyche.

+ If the intent of the film was to humanize Holiday, it succeeded–but at the price of turning her into a victim again, of the men in her life, the music industry and her own pathologies. A shrink calls her a “psychopath,” a bandmate says she was a “masochist,” a former pimp in Baltimore calls her a “prostitute,” another friend described her as a “sex machine,” one of her piano players says she “sang from her crotch.”  A few years ago, I had lunch with one of Holiday’s close friends, the great Texas blues musician Jimmy “T-99” Nelson, who got to know her while they were both playing in San Francisco. I pressed Nelson to tell me about his relationship with Holiday and he refused, his eyes misting a bit. “I’m not going to talk any more about her. I wouldn’t be right.”  Her other friends (and the filmmakers) should have shown the same discretion.

+ Most outrageously, the film insinuates, without offering the faintest evidence or even motive, that Holiday’s would-be biographer, Linda Kuehl, whose manuscript and interview tapes form the heart of the documentary, was murdered by someone in Count Basie’s entourage, pushed out of a hotel room window in DC in 1978. Her death was ruled a suicide.

+ The best soundtrack for a bad film: Don Johnson’s dreadful Texas noir, The Hot Spot, the torpid plot of which is propelled by a musical collaboration between Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker.

+ The Spotify-cation of James Baldwin’s vinyl collection.

Snowball Fighting, It’s So Exciting…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Made Men: the Story of Goodfellas
Glenn Kenny
(Hanover Square Press)

Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry
Siobhán McGuirk & Adrienne Pine, eds.
(PM Press)

Califa Burning: New and Selected Poems, 1987-2020
Tennessee Reed
(Dalkey Archive)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

No Harm Done
Josephine Foster
(Fire Records)

It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire
Chicago Soul Jazz Collective

In Blue
The Bug & Dis Fig

The Comprehensive Ocean of My Business

“’But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. ‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3