State of the Union ritual is deader than the Latin mass


I was telling Swamp Rabbit that Joe Biden spent as much time dodging key issues as addressing them in his State of the Union speech. He sounded properly indignant about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but he didn’t seriously acknowledge the concerns that are alienating many of the voters Democrats will need to avoid disaster in the midterms. I read out loud an example from the text regarding his “top priority”:

With all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth, higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills. Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel.

“And that was it,” I said. “Nothing about how he’s planning to stop inflation from robbing Americans. Or about the fact that big corporations, the actual robbers, are using inflation as an excuse to raise prices well beyond what inflation alone is causing.”

Swamp Rabbit scowled. “It’s the American way. If there’s money to be made, gouge ’em. Stop talkin’ like one of them progressives, Odd Man.”

I reminded him that Biden had mentioned how much more livable this country would be if we had a progressive agenda — a $15-an-hour minimum wage, cheaper prescription drugs, cleaner energy and so on. But he failed to dwell on how and when such goals could be reached.

Bottom line, the president seems to think that merely mentioning the need for reforms rather than fighting to install them will motivate disaffected groups — young people, Blacks, working-class whites — to vote Democratic.

“Don’t be a dope,” Swamp Rabbit said. “That speech was for the corporate media gang, not for voters. If he said anything daring, or even interesting, them middle-of-the-road mugwumps who write the od-eds wouldn’t give his speech a thumbs-up.”

He’s right, of course. Biden’s speech was politely applauded by the usual suspects. A classic example: Ruth Marcus at Washington Post approvingly noted that he seemed to be “shifting” — no, “retrenching.” Moving away “from placating his party’s liberal base to recognizing the sober reality that his legislative options are already limited.”

Therein lies the absurdity of the State of the Union ritual. The country hasn’t been this dis-united since the Civil War. The protofascist Republican officeholders are protecting the wealthy, priority one, and still refusing to denounce the would-be dictator Trump. The establishment Democrats hate Trump but, like the Republicans, would rather pander to wealthy donors than address the needs of the non-wealthy.

And mainstream media insiders like Marcus, weighing in on the ritual, continue to pretend Democrats should find “common ground” with the party that would have been happy to let Trump overturn the legitimate results of a presidential election. A party that has done as little as possible to fight Covid-19, hoping the pandemic will kill Biden’s re-election hopes.

“Wise up,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Nobody cares about the State of the Union no more. It’s a phony event staged by phony leaders who would rather line their pockets than preserve government for the peeps.”

My mangy friend was exaggerating, as usual, but not by much.

Footnote: I referenced the Latin mass because Biden is a practicing Catholic, although his allegiance to the big banks in Delaware seems to have been a lot stronger over the years than his religious faith.

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‘Retiring’ dirty energy is easier said than done


I was telling Swamp Rabbit about The Uninhabitable Earth, the 2019 nonfiction bestseller by David Wallace-Wells that explains how climate change will turn the future into an ongoing catastrophe if we don’t drastically reduce carbon emissions. The author noted that green energy initiatives haven’t yet helped us reverse course:

We are… billions of dollars and thousands of breakthroughs later, precisely where we were when hippies were affixing solar panels to their geodesic domes. This is because the market has not responded to developments by seamlessly retiring dirty energy sources and replacing them with clean ones. It has responded by simply adding the new capacity to the same system.

“What’s wrong with adding?” Swamp Rabbit said. “You take them windmills and solar panels, put ’em near the fracking fields and the coal mines, and boom, you double up on making power. Greta Thunberg gets what she wants and so does Joe Manchin. Everybody’s happy.”

I threw one of his empty beer cans at him. “We make the environment cleaner by supplanting dirty energy, not by supplementing it. Sometimes I can’t tell when you’re kidding and when you’re not.”

But it’s not just Swamp Rabbit. Every time I check the news sites there are stories about new roadblocks to replacing fossil fuel sources. I itemized some recent examples for my mangy friend to chew on:

  •  American corporations that ostensibly support reducing carbon emissions — Amazon, AT&T, Uber and so on — continue to contribute big money to Republican attorney general candidates in various states. In other words, to candidates who, when elected, end up in court opposing stricter environmental regulations.
  •  Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has arranged for the government to spend billions on a new fleet of mail delivery trucks that will be only marginally cleaner than the fleet it will replace. This despite the input of White House agencies that wanted the U.S. Postal Service to transition to a fleet that would run on cleaner power. It’s “a major blow” to Joe Biden, who can’t figure out how to get rid of DeJoy, a piggish Trump ally who has been doing his best to weaken the USPS since his appointment.
  •  The Biden administration has said it will work to reduce the amounts of methane released into the atmosphere by oil and gas companies, but limited federal oversight of these companies remains a major problem. Regulators don’t know for sure how much gas is being flared and vented by the companies, only that it far exceeds the amounts being reported by the 13 states that are the worst offenders.

Swamp Rabbit shushed me. “You’re givin’ me a headache with all that noise. Besides, Trump’s buddy Putin is trying to start World War III. Maybe we won’t have to worry about global warming.”

“Good point,” I said. “I feel happier already.”

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Love has come to town (one day only)


“What is this thing called love, Odd Man?”

It was Valentine’s Day, and Swamp Rabbit was in a reflective mood. I told him there were all sorts of love, that he was probably referring to eros, the ancient Greek word for sensual or romantic love. The trance-like feeling that compels you to stop eating and run red lights to get to the person you love. The same person most likely to destroy you unless you snap out of your trance.

“I don’t get in no trance for nobody,” Swamp Rabbit said. “And there ain’t nobody gonna make me stop eatin’.”

“Then you haven’t been in love,” I replied. “Love makes you do right, makes you do wrong. Makes you come home early, makes you stay out all night long.”

“You’re talking crazy. That ain’t love, it’s confusion.”

“Not to Al Green. Like I said, there’s all sorts of love. Check it out sometime.”

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Spotify’s big profits ensure ‘free speech’ for Joe Rogan


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Rogan’s lies are money in the bank for the exclusive owner of his podcast

I told my neighbor Swamp Rabbit that the United States leads the world in Covid-19 deaths — we’ve passed the 900,000 mark — partly because of grifters like Joe Rogan, who has used his Spotify podcasts to channel bad medical advice to the large subsection of Americans who are most susceptible to misinformation.

Swamp Rabbit told me to stuff it, Rogan is a courageous showman who refuses to surrender his First Amendment right to voice his opinions, despite pressure from the woke crowd that wants to silence him because he’s not politically correct.

“This isn’t about political correctness,” I told him. “It’s about whether Rogan should be allowed to spread lies that lead to people dying or being hospitalized.”

“It’s his show, Odd Man. He’s got a right to say that peeps should decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated, or to treat Covid with horse de-wormer or horse radish or whatever. It ain’t right for the gov’mint or that old hippie Neil Young to tell the peeps what medicine to take. That’s censorship.”

I tried to keep my cool. “Neil Young didn’t tell anybody what medicine to take. He just said that he doesn’t want his music played on a digital streaming service that allows an ignorant anti-vaxxer to spread dangerous lies about a lethal contagion, either on his own or through guests on his show who are even dumber than he is. Young made Spotify choose between him and Rogan. Spotify chose Rogan because they make more money off his show than off Young’s music.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “It’s like that rightwing Constitution expert just wrote — ‘Greed is good for free speech.’ Corporations rule. I didn’t even know who Joe Rogaine was until this here kerfuffle with Neil Young. Turns out he’s got eleven million listeners on Spotify. That buys a whole lot of free speech.”

“It’s not about free speech,” I said, trying one last time. “It’s about whether a private media company with a highly popular show should be obligated to make sure the show doesn’t endanger public health and safety. Spotify isn’t just a platform for music anymore, it’s a producer and publisher, a media services provider. It shouldn’t be censored, but it should voluntarily curate its podcast content in a case like this, don’t you think?”

He scowled. “Curate or censor, what’s the difference? I think you and Neil Young are dinosaurs, and so are Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash and them other snowflakes who pulled their music off Spotify. You don’t fit too good in the 21st century, Odd Man.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I didn’t fit well in the 20th either.”

Footnote: Spotify can handle losing older, socially conscious artists like Young and Mitchell, but it would be fun to watch how the company would react if the acts that get streamed most often — The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and so on — also bailed out.

One more: Before Spotify, Rogan was a comedian of sorts and a reality TV host whose career highlights included eating a cockroach on “Fear Factor” and imitating a disabled kid during a standup routine. He recently posted on Instagram that he’s a “huge fan” of Young and Mitchell. (“l love her music. ‘Chuck E.’s In Love’ is a great song.”) Yes, it’s great, but it was written and performed by Rickie Lee Jones, not Mitchell. No surprise that Rogan apparently knows as much about music as he does about medicine.

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3.5 trillion dollars short and six months late


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Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul the Apostle, is thrown from his horse and sees the light.
Has Joe Biden seen the light?

A Washington Post columnist declared Thursday that Joe Biden and the Democrats have had an epiphany and from now on will counter Republican nihilism by taking action that “leads to more progress in the future.”

Swamp Rabbit was puzzled. “What kind of epiphany? Like in one of them James Joyce stories? Or like when that guy Paul got knocked off his horse by a lightnin’ bolt and became a Christian?”

“Something like the latter,” I replied. “For months Biden was asleep in the saddle, seemingly unaware that two Democrats in Name Only, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, would never cast their crucial votes with the other 48 senators who wanted to override Republican opposition to the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package and the voting rights bills.”

The Dems eventually cut the $3.5T to $1.5T, but that still wasn’t enough for the Republicans and the DINOs. Biden’s amazingly dopey — or disingenuous — admission at a news conference this week:

I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done.

What is wrong with this guy? While Barack Obama’s VP, and after his own successful run for president, Biden watched Republicans, led by Mutant Ninja Turtle Mitch McConnell, obstruct and kill Democratic legislation that might help the poor and middle-class at the expense of mega-corporations and rich individuals. Like Obama before him, he wasted valuable time on futile efforts to find common ground with people whose stated goal is to wreck the Democratic agenda.

“I knew we were in trouble when he gave that July speech in Philly and didn’t mention that Senate Democrats have no chance of getting the big bills passed unless the filibuster is scuttled,” I said. “He didn’t even say the word filibuster.”

“Now he mentions it all the time,” Swamp Rabbit noted. “But he’s a dollar short and a day late.”

“Something like that,” I said again. “If he doesn’t turn things around before the midterms, he might as well get back on his horse and doze into the sunset.”

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Fifteen spirituals to help you get through 2022


“They ain’t spirituals,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Elvis was a rocker. Blind Faith don’t belong on no list with James Cleveland. Matthew Sweet got nothin’ to do with Mahalia Jackson. You got gospel mixed up with rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Elvis grew up on gospel,” I replied. “Mahalia Jackson is gospel but she rocked harder than most rockers.”

He told me Randy Newman is an atheist. Bob Dylan was a Jew and then a Christian and God knows what now. And Steely Dan — sick pups, he called them.

“We’re all sick pups,” I said. “These songs soothe the sick soul. Say amen, somebody.”

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Watching ‘Wonderful Life’ but not getting it


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James Stewart as George Bailey in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ before the happy ending is in sight

“How come you like that corny movie?” Swamp Rabbit said after watching the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) for the first time. “I thought you were one of them too-cool-for-school guys.”

I told him Wonderful Life transcends its cornball depiction of small-town life in fictional Bedford Falls. As Robert Reich noted, director Frank Capra used his folksy style to make the movie’s radical message palatable to audiences that had just lived through World War II and had high hopes. He envisioned a future in which average joes would unite to defeat greedy pigs like Mr. Potter, just as they had defeated Hitler and Tojo.

“Good thing Capra ain’t around to see what happened to his big idea,” Swamp Rabbit said. “He’d probably off himself, like George Bailey was gonna do before that angel saved him.”

Ridiculous, I told him. Capra was a great artist who would have used current social conditions to make a movie that would end on the same happy, egalitarian note as the original.

“His movie needs a rewrite,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Peeps today don’t want to defeat the rich; they want to be the rich. They don’t trust do-gooders like Bailey, and they don’t want to live near ’em.”

You exaggerate, I told him. Sure, the post-war economic boom made many Americans complacent. Reagan and his ilk suckered them into believing continued prosperity depended on tax cuts for the rich, deregulation and a weakened social safety net. Neoliberals like Bill Clinton told them some of the same lies. But people know better now. Quality of life among the non-rich has been declining for decades. The gap between rich and poor is as wide as it was in the 1920s.

“Yeah, but most white peeps don’t blame Potter and his gang,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They blame them blacks, Mexicans and Muslims. The white peeps elected Potter president in 2016.”

He showed me his rewrite. The townspeople are split into pro- and anti-Potter factions. Potter fans wear MAGA caps and denounce Bailey as a Communist. They sell their homes to Potter and move into exurban houses they can’t afford rather than work together to make Bedford Falls healthy. Bailey’s wife runs off with Potter. Bailey drowns himself and his angel. The rich get richer, and so on.

I said he was exaggerating again. You can fool some people some of the time, but don’t expect them to keep supporting causes contrary to their own interests.

It took him a while to stop laughing. “Tell that to the Trumpers and the anti-vaxxers. Tell it to them peeps who watched It’s A Wonderful Life a dozen times but still don’t get it.”

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12 days of Christmas, 12 cool songs


Swamp Rabbit was mad because Alvin and the Chipmunks didn’t make the cut. “You don’t like my Christmas playlist, then put together your own,” I told him.

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The suburban Philly gods bring you — fire!


Warming up to winter with so-called creative destruction. (Burn, phoenix, burn.)

We lingered last weekend at the 18th Firebird Festival in Phoenixville, PA, where a giant wooden figure shaped like a phoenix had been set ablaze for hundreds of fire worshippers.

“This is my kind of celebration,” I told Swamp Rabbit. “Perfect for the winter solstice. Burn the mother down and start the new year fresh.”

But my mangy friend was spooked. “Looks like a sneak preview of one of them wildfire seasons out West. Too radical, if you ask me.”

I told him it was a mainstream event. An act of creative destruction. Even Milton Friedman and the vulture capitalists would approve. Elon Musk, too.

Swamp Rabbit remained unmoved by the spectacle. He broke the seal on a pint of Wild Turkey and took a big swig. I told him he should read about the myth of the phoenix instead of boozing and watching football games in his broken down old shack. “Our hopes will rise from the ashes,” I said.

“Ain’t nothin’ gonna rise from them ashes but smoke,” he replied. “I’ll stick with the booze.”

Footnote: The headline paraphrases a line from “Fire,” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown… To really get into the holiday spirit, watch The Wicker Man (the original with Christopher Lee, not the ghastly remake with Nicolas Cage).

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An Xmas stocking stuffer from Manchin to Democrats


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A lump of coal is the Democrats’ reward for trusting blatantly corrupt Joe Manchin.

Swamp Rabbit said it best back in April:

Joe Manchin is a DINO — a Democrat in name only. He likes the filibuster rule and thinks raising taxes on the rich is radical.

At the time, Joe Biden seemed confidant that both houses of Congress would pass a future bill — the Build Back Better Act — that would enable expansion of healthcare and education benefits as well as measures to combat climate change. But it already was clear that the Democrats’ slim U.S. Senate majority would be worthless if even one Democratic senator wasn’t on board with BBB.

Democrats tried tying BBB to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), a bill that Manchin and most other legislators supported. Progressives insisted the two bills be voted on concurrently to keep Manchin from double-crossing them by abandoning BBB after the infrastructure bill was passed. But most Dems eventually caved, allowing a vote on the infrastructure bill and whittling down the BBB budget to $1.5T to appease Maserati Joe and his fellow DINO, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. In the end, Manchin humiliated them by announcing on Fox News (of course!) that he “just can’t” support BBB, falsely claiming it would increase inflation and the national debt.

After the Fox News show, Swamp Rabbit blamed “that old fool Biden and them other Dems” for not realizing Manchin was never going to support a bill that would hurt coal companies and help poor people at the expense of the rich. He reminded me that Manchin became a multimillionaire thanks to investments in the coal industry and has done nothing as an office holder to raise standards of living in West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states.

“Enough!” I said. “You’re saying the same things I said back in October. You’re preaching to the choir.”

I told him Manchin is what he is — a prehistoric lizard spawned in one of his home state’s waste coal pits. A poster boy for political corruption. The other Democratic senators know this; some of them are only marginally less corrupt than Manchin and all 50 of their Republican colleagues.

“If you want to blame somebody, blame the reporters and talking heads,” I said. “They should have questioned Manchin’s sincerity from Day One instead of devoting countless thousands of words to pretending he might take the people’s side against the polluting, tax-dodging rich. They should have been shining a light on his corruption instead of bolstering the status quo.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “Them mainstream reporters got more in common with them corrupt senators than with the people,” he said. “They are the status quo, you dummy.”

I didn’t reply. The argument was over. I hate it when Swamp Rabbit is right.

Footnote: It’s worth noting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive legislators weren’t fooled by Manchin’s months-long effort to slow-walk BBB to death.

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