Wake Up

Joe Biden on Wednesday noted that jobless claims are down 70% since he took office.

He’s right. Claims have fallen dramatically. 267,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week to November 6, down another 4,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised print.

The four-week moving average dropped to 278,000, a new post-pandemic surge low (figure below).

Last week marked the sixth consecutive weekly decline in initial claims.

The problem, though, is that while claims have fallen dramatically and jobs are coming back, inflation has risen dramatically. Data for October (out Wednesday) showed headline CPI surged more than 6% last month. Energy prices soared.

“Inflation will rise further and at this point we can’t rule out a 7% YoY reading in the next couple of months given housing, energy and second-hand car price developments,” ING said. “Meanwhile, retail inventories are at all-time lows so the need for seasonal discounts ahead of the key shopping season is simply not there,” the bank’s James Knightley remarked.

The White House asked the FTC to look into, and “strike back” against any market manipulation. “Inflation hurts Americans pocketbooks, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” Biden said, in a statement, adding that,

The largest share of the increase in prices in this report is due to rising energy costs—and in the few days since the data for this report were collected, the price of natural gas has fallen. I have directed my National Economic Council to pursue means to try to further reduce these costs, and have asked the Federal Trade Commission to strike back at any market manipulation or price gouging in this sector. Other price increases reflect the ongoing struggle to restore smooth operations in the economy in the restart: I am traveling to Baltimore today to highlight how my Infrastructure Bill will bring down these costs, reduce these bottlenecks and make goods more available and less costly. And I want to reemphasize my commitment to the independence of the federal reserve to monitor inflation, and take steps necessary to combat it.

As ever, Biden usually says all the right things. The problem is, nobody seems to be listening and there’s a perception — perpetuated by right-wing, tabloid-style media outlets — that he’s inept in a kind of general sense. Hold that thought.

I’ve argued the administration (and centrist Democrats as a group) are inept on a number of fronts, including and especially PR. If you can’t sell a fiscal plan that entails lots of free stuff for people who desperately need it, then you need to work on your communications skills and you arguably have nobody to blame but yourself when someone like Joe Manchin torpedoes key initiatives. Had West Virginia voters been apprised of how the Progressive programs in the original social spending package would benefit them and their families, Manchin wouldn’t have had carte blanche to singlehandedly commandeer the process.

So, there are myriad arguments to be made for ineptitude. The problem with Biden propaganda (as it finds expression on conservative networks and a few notoriously unscrupulous web portals), is that it’s designed specifically to perpetuate the notion that Biden is generally incompetent, a patently ridiculous claim which (amusingly) stands in stark contrast to some of the Biden conspiracy theories promoted by the very same networks and portals. That kind of propaganda undermines The White House’s efforts and has the effect of turning everything Biden says into a meme.

Of course, this is supremely ironic given that the person who popularized this strategy (Donald Trump) is objectively incompetent. That’s not an effort to denigrate, it’s a statement of fact. Forget his presidency. Think about his business career. Trump somehow managed to be the exception the otherwise ironclad rule that the house always wins in the casino business. He couldn’t even succeed as a mail-order steak salesman. Based on the most in-depth reporting available, he received at least $410 million in inflation-adjusted dollars from his father’s real estate empire, and somehow managed to only be worth a couple of billion decades later.

If the Biden presidency ends up being a disappointment, part of the blame will surely rest on propaganda. Around half the country is either lost in a fantasy world where Trump is still president or else actually believes that Biden is somehow less competent than a man who bankrupted casinos and who demonstrated time and again that, in fact, he may not be entirely literate. Again, I should emphasize that I don’t say that to denigrate Trump. I mean it literally. Four years of public speaking, tweeting and speech-giving cast considerable doubt on the idea that Trump can read and write at anything beyond a middle school level.

Alas, here we are, pondering a scenario where tens of millions of people still can’t tell the difference between fantasy and fiction, and believe the Biden administration is less competent than what, on any objective assessment, was not only the most wildly dysfunctional administration the nation has ever seen, but in fact a singular example of tragicomic farce befitting of a sitcom.

Meanwhile, a divided Democratic party has once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by somehow failing to convince struggling Americans facing economic precarity that free stuff is good.

That’s the lens through which you have to view statements like that issued by Biden on Wednesday, following inflation and claims data. Any sign of economic turbulence would be cause for the GOP and their surrogates to pounce. Inflation running at three-decade highs is nothing short of a godsend for propagandists.

It’s difficult for me to editorialize around it because I’m not going to lie and say, for instance, that October’s inflation report wasn’t harrowing. It was. But at the same time, telling the truth (i.e., calling it a disaster that further undermines the “transitory” narrative) chances being viewed as complicit in propaganda.

For example, almost no one replies to the article links I tweet these days because I’ve made it obvious I’m not engaged on Twitter, so when someone does reply, it sticks out. On Wednesday, someone replied to the linked inflation article by asking how bad price pressures might get “If Brainerd takes over.” Brainard (with an “a”) is the only Democrat serving on the Fed Board. That reply was indicative of the quandary that vexes me daily. Sometimes, telling the truth about markets and the economy entails inadvertently engendering the equivalent of cheers from a segment of the population being hypnotized by propaganda and indoctrinated with the kind of abject nonsense responsible for the steady erosion of civic-mindedness and the disappearance of civil discourse.

The same goes for my scathing critiques of Democrats’ failure to pass legislation with a chance of bringing about transformational economic change. Scathing critiques like that delivered in “A Reality Check For Americans On Infrastructure Weekend.”

That linked article is overtly pro-Progressive, even as it criticizes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for spending too much time on social media and publicity stunts and not enough time taking the revolutionary mantle. But if you were so inclined, you could view it as an indictment of Democrats and thereby characterize it as somehow consistent with the kind of propaganda I despise.

Ultimately, it always comes back to the same thing. Americans no longer care enough to read between any lines or, really, to read anything at all. There’s no room for nuance and no room for the truth. Just headlines and snark.

Biden on Wednesday emphasized that Congress should pass what’s left of his social spending plan. “It’s fully paid for and does not add to the debt, and will get more Americans working by reducing the cost of child care and elder care, and help directly lower costs for American families by providing more affordable health coverage and prescription drugs, alongside cutting taxes for 50 million Americans including for most families with children,” he said, adding that “17 Nobel Prize winners in economics have said that my plan will ‘ease inflationary pressures.'”

Most of that is true. But nobody will care. They’ll be too busy lampooning Biden for falling asleep at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Or blaming anyone who’s “woke” for all their problems.

Speak your mind

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17 thoughts on “Wake Up

  1. I’ve been researching Mass Hysterical Shared Psychosis (the term I’ve landed on as there really isn’t an academic common usage term for the phenomena we are currently experiencing). Most of the sources are from 1930-1960 as an apparent societal attempt at a post mortem to understand the right-wing extremist ideologies that swept the globe from 1920-50. There is almost no research nor academic discourse since then.

    Anyway, one of the tactics that stood out to me when I first read it was labeling the “enemy” as the Omnipotent Evil Destroyer who is also completely incompetent and could never get anything done. The false logic is obvious when you boil it down to simple terms.

  2. I have to disagree with the assessments here. Biden/Pelosi/Schumer have done pretty well so far. They passed two large spending bills despite having narrow majorities. It is likely they will pass another one by year end. If they manage somehow to pass a voting rights bill and conclude a successful January 6th investigation it would be a phenomenal performance. Biden and the Democrats were handed a pile of sh-t January 20th,2021. Vaccines are now in arms and there is a strong prospect of a antiviral pill available next year which should become widely available. Despite ups and downs, we should be seeing light at the end of the tunnel by the end of 2022. If the price is high inflation for a couple of years, it is a price worth paying to see us get out of this ditch. And by the way, AOC is a lousy politician. She torpedoed a once in 50 year opportunity for NYC to redevelop an area of Queens that was one of the laggard areas of the city. All for nothing- a skilled politician would have negotiated some additional benefits for her constituency instead of torpedoing a once in a lifetime opportunity to redevelop WIllets Point-Shea area of Queens. She has a lot to learn about policy.

    1. I don’t know if you’re actually disagreeing or perhaps who you’re disagreeing with. Objectively, as you note, Year 1 of the Biden admin has been very successful especially considering the extreme challenges faced and historical precedence for Year 1s. But H is saying that they have been successful in actual policy and legislation, but they are absolutely failing when it comes to optics.

      Personally, I believe their biggest failure is that they have not addressed the extremist Nazi-like threat in the country. The legislation passed is nice and all, but will be minor victories in the effort to lose the war. Specifically no effort has been made to reviving the 14th Amendment to prosecute conspirators against the US Constitution (which is the majority of the Republican party at present as buckets of illegal money is being funneled to them from foreign enemies).

      If you haven’t had the chance to read the ruling by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in the U.S. District Court in Washington:

      “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”

      “The court has no difficulty discerning multiple subjects on which legislation ‘could be had’ from the Select Committee’s requests,” Chutkan added. “Some examples include enacting or amending criminal laws to deter and punish violent conduct targeted at the institutions of democracy” or passing laws for future enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment against “any member of Congress or officer of the United States who engaged in ‘insurrection or rebellion,’ or gave ‘aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.’”

      Hopefully this gets the attention of the Legislators. This and voting right legislation are far more important than anything passed this year IMO.

      1. “But H is saying that they have been successful in actual policy and legislation, but they are absolutely failing when it comes to optics.”


        Look at the polls. And those bills don’t actually amount to transformational change. Telling everyone healthcare is totally free is transformational. Telling everyone community college is totally free is transformational. Anything you have to explain won’t work for a public that’s enamored with tweets, TikTok videos and looped gifs of Ron Burgundy catchphrases.

        I mean, come on. Only 10% of registered voters were confident they could identify specifics in the social spending plan as of early last month. If this were Trump, he’d be holding a rally every two days and tweeting non-stop about every conceivable benefit until every, single one of his supporters could make a list of at least five things they were getting out of the legislation.

        Trump had people believing he was delivering benefits that weren’t actually even in any legislation. At one point, headed into the midterms, he told the public that a middle class tax cut was coming within two weeks and there were literally no plans whatsoever anywhere among anyone for such a proposal. He just made it up. He convinced the very same farmers that his trade war bankrupted that they were somehow better off for the deal.

        It’s nice that smart people who read think Biden, Pelosi and Schumer are doing a pretty good job, but what percentage of the voting public is comprised of smart people who read?

        There are four ways to win: Lie, cheat, be undeniably charismatic or do something so big and bold that people can’t help but notice.

        Biden, Pelosi and Schumer aren’t going to lie. They aren’t going to cheat. They aren’t charismatic. And besides the stimulus checks and other pandemic transfer payments, average people can’t name a single thing they’ve done.

        And AOC isn’t a lousy politician if you consider the real goal of politics, which is to win and gradually wield more and more sway, influence and power. That’s my whole point about AOC. She’s a good politician. She’s a good celebrity. So far, though, she’s a terrible revolutionary.

    1. Err… Yes and no. Sure, some of the opposition comes from ultra conservative whites unwilling or unable to recognize or to correct the sins of their ancestors.

      OTOH, woke are getting pretty annoying, petty, dogmatic and willing to use violence (via cancelling people) in order to get their way. Fuck that. Fighting bullies is righteous, regardless of the bullies’ dogma.

  3. I have lamented for decades that the dems refuse to aggressively counter the rightwing propaganda in the public forum, with the result being further escalation and continuation from the right…one clearcut example in my mind would be to claim the mantle of being the “Law and Order” Party while labeling Trump and his republican minions as being the “Above the Law and Order” policy and using that mantra as a springboard for a cohesive communication strategy, but I fear they aren’t capable of that aggressiveness…if Merrick Garland allows Steve Bannon to skirt and flaunt a congressional subpoena it will be game over dems in this cycle…just my two cents worth…incomprehensible how much is at stake right now…

    1. I agree with everything you say. However, the history of the Law and Order slogan is decidedly White Superracist. Here is a good article about that:


      Specifically, the Law and Order slogan was used in more recent times as part of the Republican party’s Southern Strategy in the 60’s and 70’s in an effort to leverage overtly yet coded racist language to pull the rural and suburban white Americans to their party which had previously mostly voted Democrat. Essentially, it’s how the KKK transitioned from Democrat to Republican. Conservative Democrats (calling them moderate is a false optic) have also used the slogan. It has had dissatorous effect on communities of color and instituted a defacto Jim Crow. A good look at this is the Netflix documentary “13th”. Also, historian/professor Heather Cox Richardson is also great at giving context to the issue.

      But back to your point, yes, the Dems need to get aggressive and have failed at nearly every opportunity to stamp out the extremist threat. The trick IMO from an optics (propaganda/discourse) perspective is to not to co-opt an existing and dangerous slogan, but rather to spin the topic on it’s head with new slogans. Without this thought leadership (encapsulated in effective new slogans) American Democracy will be relegated to history as soon as 2024.

      1. certainly a redefinition of “law and order” into more palatable socially respectful terms could and should be part of the process – I’m just trying to call out the hypocrisy by Trump and the right and wanting the dems to follow suit…

    2. At least since the Obama era I have been pulling my hair out or alternatively setting it on fire because of the Dems lack of communication skills. What is f…ing wrong with them. Republicans keep sucker punching them and they can’t figure out a counter. It’s a shame because without public opinion on their side their plans are going to be dashed before takeoff. H says it very clearly, the Dems can’t even sell free stuff to those who need it badly.

  4. is the dumb-ifcation of US populace an accident? rhetorical at first blush, but if not … what is the end game? Or, is it just power grab regardless of outcomes as long as power is captured and held? As a trained educator, I am disgusted, disappointed and disillusioned by the effort and / or ability of populace to even TRY to get smarter … i think time for Sartre, Camus and their peers to be read again.

  5. “Americans no longer care enough to read between any lines or, really, to read anything at all. There’s no room for nuance and no room for the truth. Just headlines and snark.” This paragraph makes me extremely sad, because I know in my heart and mind it is absolutely accurate, I don’t know how we overcome this, we might be too far gone.

  6. One Year After Trump’s Election the Stock Market Return Was 21.69%
    One Year After Joe Biden’s Election the Stock Market Returned 40.91 %
    Biden’s Advantage Over Trump:
    +19.22 Percent In 1 Year!
    And not a single tweet from Joe about Dow Jones or 401Ks.

    1. Biden does not tout the stock market. The administration is focused on stamping out the virus and the broader well being of the american public. Stocks benefit, but that is not their target.

  7. True, and neither should it be.

    Yet Keyvan has a point, Trump would have been shouting “his” “tremendous success” from the rooftops.
    Also the stock market was often used as a “proof” of DJTs business acumen (total BS, I know).

    so why not adopt parts of the same tactics and trumpet everywhere: “Thanks to Bidens policies not only the pandemic situation is better, unemployment down and the stock market is up bigly” ?

    Worked for the Donald

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