Roaming Charges: Biden’s House Has Many Manchins

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair


Time to Pony Up!

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+ Some politicians spend most of their careers reinventing themselves, trying to stay within the slipstream of current trends, never out front, never too far beyond. But that’s not Joe Manchin. His political identity has always been pretty transparent to those who care to look. Manchin’s not a complex operator.  Frankly, he’s just a hack and apparently is proud to be one. He’s spent most of his political life doing the bidding of coal companies and Big Pharma. His conflicts of interests are so obvious that he almost gloats about them. For Manchin, such critiques are proof that he’s doing what he came to Washington to do: serve his financial backers.

Manchin didn’t rise into a pivotal position on the Hill. He fell into it. I’ve watched him for 20 years or so and have yet to detect any particular skill set. He’s not a gifted orator. He’s not a tactician or strategist. He doesn’t come up with new ideas or even repackaged old ones. Unlike his predecessors Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, Manchin hasn’t been able to redirect stream of federal money and infrastructure projects into his destitute state.  Mainly, he’s perfected the role (let’s refrain from calling it an “art”) of being a loud-mouthed impediment to progressive policies and exploiting that position for his personal advantage, which means more and more airtime. Lately, he’s been booked on more FoxNews shows than Glenn Greenwald.

Manchin is, it must be said, one of the vainest members in an institution renowned for its vanity. He delivers populist rhetoric with freshly manicured nails. Like most politicians, Manchin has contempt for the people who elected him and whose interests he must pretend to represent. But he doesn’t try to conceal his disdain. He can openly act as an agent of austerity in front of the very people in most desperate need of federal assistance, without a quiver in his voice. Most politicians blame people for their own suffering. But only a few, like Manchin, see their role in the prolongation of human suffering as a badge of honor.

Yet this preening obstructionist would have been smashed by the powerbrokers of old, senate leaders like LBJ, Mike Mansfield, even old Harry Reid. To the extent that Manchin has any real power today, it is because he has been indulged by those who have even more power, by people who understand how useful Manchin can be to the protection of their deeply vested interests. There are, I suspect, many Manchins in Biden’s house of Democrats, who are content to have him soak up the limelight, as he kills off policies they might feel forced to vote for but would prefer never pass. Manchin is so self-absorbed that he may not even realize how useful a stooge he is or who he is being used by and to what end. Manchin doesn’t mind being used, as long as he still gets the credit.

Manchin’s political ideology, though he’d never call it such, is pretty primitive. But at its core it’s almost identical to Biden’s and the rest of the neoliberal block that has dominated the Democratic Party since Carter. Manchin likes to think of himself as an independent, but he functions like a moveable roadblock that can erected in front of any progressive policy that threatens the corporate agenda that the leadership of the party is beholden to. He can be counted on to play that role without being told. It’s just who is. He’s one of them, even if he doesn’t know it, and they don’t want to admit it publicly.

+ I’m probably the last person to give progressive Democrats advice, but for what it’s worth: the attention on Manchin will backfire. He wants to be attacked by the Left and Biden is happy for him to play that role. The outrage should be aimed at Biden and Harris. They’re the one’s undermining their own platform. Manchin is sticking firmly to political views, abhorrent as they are, that he’s held his in entire career. He’s not the one who sold you a bill of goods.

+ For example, Joe Manchin is taking a lot of heat for defending the filibuster. Joe Biden has held the same position for 50 years.

+ Another Biden promise (which was already a compromise) bite the dust this week, when the president’s budget request failed to include the public option for federal health care insurance.

+ Biden vowed to “rally the world’s democracies” this week at the G-8 summit, which is usually a sign that some poor country’s about to get gang-banged by NATO…

+ Which begs the “values question:” Who has China bombed recently?

+ It took about 100 days for the patina to wash off his presidency to reveal that Biden is exactly who we though he was but not who he pretended to be for a year or so…Take a recent filing from the DoJ, announcing that it will “vigorously” defend a Trump-era law allowing “religious” schools to discriminate against LGBT kids.

+ The Biden/Garland Justice Department’s defense of Trump in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against the former president is appalling, but entirely predictable. Because no president ever wants to cede back a millimeter of the power or immunity that the office has accumulated, especially when he has also been accused of sexual misconduct.

+ By now, nearly everybody knows that the Trump Justice Department was secretly seizing the email logs and phone records of reporters at the New York Times, CNN and Washington Post. What few seem to realize is that these intrusions into press freedom escalated considerably after Biden became president and that Merrick Garland’s agents imposed gag orders on attorneys and executives the Times to prevent them from alerting the public to these unconstitutional raids on the first Amendment, which Biden claimed (erroneously) that he wouldn’t tolerate.

+ I’m still perplexed as to why the NYT agreed to abide by a gag order on the Trump & Biden DoJ’s attempts to seize their reporters’ emails and phone logs– intrusions on basic civil liberties & the function of the press. What would have been the consequences if they’d gone public?

Doesn’t this make the NYT’s at least partially complicit? It reminds me of their decision to cave to the demands of the Bush administration to withhold their story on the NSA’s massive domestic surveillance program after 9/11.

+ Maybe it is a national tragedy that Merrick Garland didn’t make it to the Supreme Court. He’d almost certainly do less damage there.

+ Biden has nominated hotshot corporate lawyer Neil McBride as general counsel of the Treasury Department, the same man who openly bragged about suing the Treasury Department on behalf of ExxonMobil to overturn a sanctions notice levied against it for violations of the Constitution.

+ Just because (most of) the troops are leaving Afghanistan, doesn’t mean the US will stop bombing. The withdrawal may even give the Pentagon an excuse to launch more airstrikes. In fact, plans are being drawn

+ How many civilians did US airstrike kill in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia last year? A new Pentagon report says 23, with another 10 injured. But according to Airwars, the UK-based groups that tracks airstrikes and casualties, the number was more four-times that figure, with at least 103 non-combatants killed in US drone strikes and bombing raids.

+ Can’t blame the Republicans for this retreat: Illinois Democrats passed a policing & criminal justice reform bill months ago. But now, under pressure by police, they’ve already relaxed some of the new standards, including what constitutes misconduct and when “deadly force” can be used.

+ When has the CIA ever followed this advice when it comes to Central America?

+ Here is the liberal matrix at work. Assert the worst possible interpretation of some outrageous Trump/Pence statement and the best possible interpretation for an equally outlandish Biden/Harris statement, no matter how improbable.

+ As an incentive, Harris came to Guatemala with offers of increased “US aid.” In practice, however, US “aid” is often merely financial support for keeping in power the very regimes that are driving people to flee for their lives…

+ When Louie Gohmert or Marjorie Taylor Greene says something outlandish, you can almost always assume they actually mean it. When leading Democrats say something that makes perfect sense to you, it’s safe to assume they’re trying to con you.

+ Speaking of Gohmert, here he is in action,  inquiring during a congressional hearing whether the Forest Service or BLM could alter the orbit of the Earth or moon to fight climate change…

+ The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated in the Senate by 50-49 vote on Tuesday, after Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the lone senator to miss the vote. Some of us recall her savage condemnation of former senator Al Franken for his failure to discuss her platform on gender equity…

+ Kids get Covid, kids get Long Covid, kids transmit Covid, mostly at school. The latest heat mapping from New England…

+ In fact, kids and young adults are 3 to 4 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID than they are for influenza.

+ Currently, the 50 Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican senators. If current population trends continue, by 2040 70% of Americans will be represented by just 30 senators, and 30% of Americans by 70 senators.

+ This week is the anniversary of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty. When Cockburn & I visit Gore Vidal we gave him a copy of our book The Politics of Antisemitism. He thumbed thought it, stopped at the chapter on the Liberty and declared “It’s a damn travesty!” I was thrilled–I wrote it.

+ Every time Ilhan Omar publicly criticizes US support for Israel, as she did this week during her pointed questioning of Tony Blinken, this is the kind of abuse she gets…

+ Meanwhile, her own party wants to censure her…again.

+ Here’s the letter from the Democratic “leadership” blatantly mischaracterizing what Omar said by alleging that she drew a false equivalence between democracies and terrorists. But Omar was referring to ongoing ICC investigations into potential war crimes committed by the US, the Taliban, Israel, and Hamas.

+ The ringleader of the Democratic campaign to humiliate and discipline Omar has been led by Hakeem Jeffries, who lost his first foray into electoral politics after his targeting of his opponent, Roger Green, for being a “practicing Muslim” backfired.

+ As usual, Omar was right to put the screws to Blinken, who is proving himself a more refined and less bombastic version of Pompeo, which, of course, makes him all the more dangerous. Consider his testimony on Iran, where he vowed that the Trump-era sanctions, of which there are more than a hundred, will stay in place. Even if the US rejoins the Iran nuclear deal.

“Even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain, unless and until Iran’s behavior changes.”

+ Here’s the latest from the Department of Pre-Crime, Pre-School Division

+ A group called the Nevada Family Alliance is calling for teachers to wear body cameras to wear body cameras to make sure that no “critical race theory” is being taught in classrooms–whether they’d know it when they saw it is something else entirely.

+ Evil often has a name and a face, and despite the fact that it often speaks banalities, can be more craven than truly banal. In Ingraham’s case, the poisonous sentiments are rewarded with a salary of $15 million a year.

+ Julian Assange’s fiance, Stella Morris, on his deteriorating condition inside Belmarsh Prison, as Biden administration tries to launch a new effort to secure his extradition: “Julian is not violent, he is not a danger to society. He is a publisher and this case is about freedom of information. This situation shames the UK’s justice system. It is a blight on the UK’s global reputation.”

+ Trump and Bill O’Reilly are going on tour together. Bring your own loofahs and falafel!

+ The American Economy: crap jobs, in crap conditions, for crap pay that even Lindsey Graham’s crappy relatives are smart enough to reject

+ In an exchange over whether the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour, economist Art “the Curve” Laffer told Fox News, that “people who are coming into the labor force fresh — not old-timers, the poor, the minorities, the disenfranchised, those with less education, young people who haven’t had the job experience — these people aren’t worth $15 an hour in most cases.”

+ During my two-week stay in the Valley (San Fernando), I walked the neighborhoods on both sides of Ventura Avenue, stunned at the prices for nondescript bungalows built in the 50s and early 60s. There was a tw0-bedroom stucco with a tiny yard, squeezed between the 101 and Ventura Ave., where the traffic noise never abates, that was listed for $2.1 million. Who is buying these places? Perhaps not the resident, but a hedge fund. According to a report in the WSJ, Blackrock is buying every single family house they can find, paying 20-50% above the asking price, outbidding normal home buyers and driving the housing prices to the stratosphere.

+ When our very own Dr. Susan Block interviewed defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who died last week…

+ In 64 incidents of police abuse captured on video tape, only five NYPD cops faced in any serious disciplinary actions.

+ More than 100 police officers in North Carolina have been secretly deemed by prosecutors as “too untrustworthy” to testify in court, but they are still licensed to chase, arrest, taser, choke, suffocate or shoot you and the DA’s won’t disclose who they are..

+ Opposing the death penalty for innocent people is not taking a moral stand. It hardly qualifies as taking a stand at all…

+ NBCNews and other obedient outlets are reporting that Chipotle is raising the price of its burritos to “cover the rising costs of higher wages for its employees.” These kinds of anti-worker stories always fail to mention the cost of painting the lifestyles of the company executives. In Chipotle’s case, its’ CEO was paid $38 million in 2020, 2,898 times more than the median Chipotle worker’s salary.

+ If Naftali Bennet becomes prime minister, he will be the first to be sworn in wearing a kippah in the history of Israel, thus making explicit what was slightly less explicit.

+ American evangelicals are apparently confused by implications of the fall of Netanyahu, who they saw as a messianic figure. Will they still be able to gather at Megiddo?

+ Pity the poor cockroach that awoke one more to find himself transformed into the bloated hulk of Richard Dawkins…

+ Edward Abbey: “Walking stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed.”

+  Despite the economic slowdown related to the pandemic, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide peaked in May, reaching a monthly average of nearly 419 parts per million, according to scientists from Scripps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That represents an increase from the May 2020 mean of 417 parts per million, the highest level since measurements began 63 years ago at the NOAA observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Twice in 2021, daily levels recorded at the observatory have exceeded 420 parts per million.

+ The planet is hotter now than it has been for at least the last 12,000 years. The planet may even be at its warmest for 125,000 years, although data reaching that far back is less certain.

+ Minority communities are more likely to become victims of climate disasters and less likely to receive aid when they are displaced or out of work by climate driven fires, floods, tornadoes or hurricanes…

+ The beat(downs) go on: Fire hoses soaking anti-DAPL protesters in sub-zero temperatures at Standing Rock under Obama, low-flying helicopters blinding anti-Enbridge protesters with dust and sand under Biden.

+ The future is plastics and the future is now, even in Yellowstone, where the fish are filling up with micro-plastic particles.

+ Rocky Mountain Howl: A Colorado state biologist and district wildlife manager each spotted a litter of at least three wolf pups over the weekend with their parents, two adult wolves known to live in the state. The wolf pups are the first to be born in Colorado in 80 years.

+ RIP Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement leader who was one of the best interviews I ever conducted. Tolerated no bullshit questions. Answered directly without embellishment or coyness. And wasn’t afraid to tell me when the answers were “none of my fucking business,” which is exactly what you want in an interview subject and a leader..

+ In the 90s, Cockburn and I wrote a series columns on the grassroots movement of environmentalists, Gabrieleño indigenous tribe and birders to save Bolsa Chica from developers. He would be infuriated to see that a  crashed drone wiped out 1,500 to 2,000 elegant tern eggs  in the ecological reserve, which provides one of only three nesting sites for the terns on the West Coast.

+ Highly endangered whales are shrinking in size due to stress, climate change depleting their food supply and fishing gear entanglements. North Atlantic right whales are now 3 feet smaller than 20 years ago and many of the females are too small to have babies. There are currently only about 360 left on the planet, 200 less than it takes to sustain a genetically diverse population.

+ So, the vaccine didn’t harbor a Bill Gates chip after all, but one devised by the Amazing Kreskin…!

+ I went rambling in the Hollywood Hills this morning, looking for two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s minor Mayan masterpieces and stumbled across the apartments where Hemingway and Faulkner stayed–close to each other but not close enough to fight. According to Faulkner, Papa didn’t know enough words to need a dictionary.

Highland Towers, where Faulkner wrote his draft of the screenplay for The Big Sleep. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Hemingway, who spent his time in Hollywood writing for television not film, may have felt somewhat vindicated by this snappy bit of dialogue from Robert Montgomery’s daring and disorienting (if not entirely successful) 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, where almost the entire film is shot using a subjective camera from Philip Marlowe’s point of view:

Derrie Kingsby: It’s always nice to see one of our writers.

Adrienne Fromsett: Up to this point Mr. Marlowe isn’t one of our writers. He has just violently and indignantly turned down an offer of $200 for one of his stories.

Kingsby: But Mr. Marlowe, the boys are all writing for a penny a word these days and $200 is …

Fromsett: Ah, but this isn’t the ordinary blood-and-thunder yarn, Derrie. This has part of Mr Marlowe’s soul in it. I would say it was worth $500, as souls go these days.

Kingsby: Well, if you say so. It’s up to you.

Fromsett: Thank you, Derrie.

Kingsby: I congratulate you Mr. Marlowe. A writer who is also a businessman.

Fromsett: And a very well-known private detective.

Kingsby: Uh, detective?

Fromsett: Mm-hmm. That’s what makes his stuff so authentic. So full of life and vigor and heart. So full of uh…what would you say it was full of Mr. Marlowe?

Marlowe: Short sentences.

+ In the thirties, Raymond Chandler lived with his wife Crissy in nondescript stucco duplex in Silver Lake, then a boho community known for the group of modernist houses designed by Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and John Lautner. The Chandler house at 1639 Redesdale Avenue remains much the same as did 85 years ago, giving not the faintest hint of the dark plots that were brewing inside.

Raymond Chandler’s house in Silver Lake.

Chandler was attracted to literary spouses. Perhaps he hoped they could help him finish his novels and scripts on those frequent occasions when he was too drunk to write. So consuming was this passion that while Chandler was courting Orwell’s widow, Sonia, and Stephen Spender’s neglected wife, Natasha, he left his own wife Cissy’s remains in a storage locker, where they moldered for 57 years before finally being interred–talk about the long goodbye.

+ Back in the early 90s when I was editing a radical eco-magazine in Portland called Wild Forest Review, we used to get smudgy envelopes from an address on Alta Loma Terrace in LA. The envelopes, often illustrated with obscene cartoons featuring chainsaws, were stuffed w/ cash. The letters were from Kurt Cobain, who was living there with Courtney when child welfare briefly seized Frances Bean. It was a dreadful time for him. Their apartment is about a quarter of a mile northeast of Faulkner’s old crib in the Hollywood Heights neighborhood, right next to the High Tower, that strange faux-Tuscan folly featured in the films Dead Again and The Long Goodbye. When the smog lifts, you can see downtown and the distant outline of the Santa Monica Mountains from the terrace. But the sun became oppressive and the magic hour had failed to deliver any new tricks. I got the sense that Kurt missed the Pacific Northwest, the chill in the air, the rain, the big trees, where he could play dumb and just be happy. He wrote In Utero here, one last stab against the descending darkness.

High Tower and Alta Loma Terrace, Hollywood Heights, Los Angeles.

+ I was as addicted to the Mod Squad as anyone else, in love with Peggy Lipton (or as in love as a 10 year old could be) and thought Linc Hayes was the epitome of “cool”, not fully realizing that they were cops posing as hippies and Panthers to bust hippies and Panthers, usually for petty “crimes” or just for the helluva it…(RIP Clarence Williams III)

+ Give me the beastly Toby Keith to this kind of spineless mush

“When he [Garth Brooks] was done, he shook Biden’s hand. He shook former vice president Mike Pence’s hand and Vice President Harris’s hand, too. Brooks put his cowboy hat back on and was dutifully walking up the stairs to exit, he said, when Obama suddenly caught his attention with a quick, “How ya doin,’ Garth?” What would anyone do in that situation? “I hugged his neck,” Brooks explained. “Hugged Miss Michelle.” Then he noticed the couple’s seatmates. “As I’m hugging Miss Michelle, there’s the Clintons — so I go over and hug them and tell them I love them. Then I hear this voice go, ‘Hell, you love everybody.’ I look over and there are the Bushes. Now, 41 — Jiminy Christmas, I worship that man and I worship his family. So I go hug them.””

+ A 1986 double bill of John Cage and Sun Ra at Coney Island has been called the “avant-garde” concert of the 20th century. The problem is: I never thought of Sun Ra as “avant-garde”. Sun Ra mostly wrote and performed dance music, swing in the key of Neptune…

+ I went down to Zuma Beach this morning. It was foggy and cool, the dolphins were weaving around the surfers, and I starting thinking about Neil Young and his gloomy time in Hollywood.The ocean’s probably much the same, though closer, warmer, and more plasticized than in 75. But the multimillion dollar faux-modernist gated palaces embedded in the flanks of the Santa Monica mountains give the era a much different vibe. I’ve always thought On the Beach was his greatest record (give or take, Tonight’s the Night), which in part charts the ebbs and flows (or flows and ebbs) of his relationship with the actress Carrie Snodgrass, who Neil apparently caught in bed with his former pal, producer and arranger Jack Nitzsche, who worked with Phil Spector developing the “wall of sound.” A couple of years later, Nitzsche, in a bizarre parallel with his mentor Spector, was arrested for raping Snodgrass at gunpoint, battering her with his pistol to the point of fracturing her cheekbone, and threatening to kill her. He was convicted, but walked away with probation. Both are long dead now. But Neil plays on, still one step ahead of the rust…

“And though these wings have turned to stone/I can fly, fly fly away….

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire
Ian Sanjay Patel
(Verso)

King Richard: Nixon and Watergate
Michael Dobbs
(Knopf)

Notes on Grief
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Knopf)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Stove-Top
Three Layer Cake
(Rare Noise)

Soberish
Liz Phair
(Chrysalis)

Too Close for Comfort
George Cables
(HighNote Records)

A Present Without a Past

“The average ‘educated’ American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past. That is why it is not really possible to compare a writer like William Dean Howells with any living American writer because Howells thought that it was a good thing to know as much as possible about his own country as well as other countries while our writers today, in common with the presidents and paint manufacturers, live in a present without past among signs whose meanings are uninterpretable.” (Gore Vidal, “William Dean Howells”)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3