The human race has one really effective weapon,” said America’s master of wit, Mark Twain, “and that is laughter.” So true–and we need it more than ever in a world rife with corporate bastards and political b.s.-ers. Laughter can sooth our battered psyches to keep us from crying, screaming hysterically, or falling into a deep pit of soul-sucking cynicism. But it’s even better as an offensive weapon, as generations of satirists–from Twain and Will Rogers to Lily Tomlin and Jon Stewart–have proven. The poo-bahs on Wall Street, in Washington, and up in the corporate suites begin to come unglued when their rapacity, hypocrisy, and “bogusity” (as the Magliozzi brothers of NPR’s Car Talk dubbed it) are subjected to public ridicule and hoots of laughter.
In that spirit, then, we present the Lowdown’s 2015 GOOBERHEAD AWARDS, honoring a gaggle of politicos, corporados, and others who’ve shown beyond any doubt that they have peanuts for brains. Our thanks go out to the many Lowdowners who sent us their nominees, the range of submissions vividly illustrating that there are many more Gooberheads worthy of public notice than we have space for. But our honorees are truly standouts, having demonstrated such a ludicrous level of megalomania, avarice, stupidity, and bogusity that they richly deserve our recognition–and the public scorn that comes with it.
Top quality congressional nuts
As you would expect, this is a highly competitive category. It was so hard to bring it down to individuals, that we’ve chosen two of the choicest Goober clusters from America’s Capitol Hill Nutshop.
Let them eat goobers. In the ornate, members-only dining rooms and other restaurants throughout our nation’s Capitol complex, hundreds of cooks, servers, dishwashers, and others toil away for poverty pay. Food service in these grand public buildings was privatized in 2008; the contractor profits by holding worker pay to under $11 an hour–not enough to cover rent, food, and transportation in this expensive city. “Everybody has second jobs,” says an employee whose pay is $10.33. She works weekends and two evenings a week at a KFC outlet, which pays a buck-and-a half better than the mighty US Congress.
13 Democratic senators say “Nuts to you.” By a one-vote margin in late June, the Senate passed “fast-track” authority for the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that promises to export beaucoup more of our country’s middle-class jobs. That’s bad enough. But here’s the nutty part: The key votes for fast track came from a baker’s dozen of Democratic senators.
Fast track is a railroad job to enthrone global corporate power over us. It will allow the Obama administration to send the massive 12-country TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote when the negotiations–being conducted in secret with representatives from Big Industry (but no one from labor, environment, consumers or human rights)–are complete later this year. The majority of Democrats held together to oppose this giveaway, so what’s with the13 Dems?
Not to worry, the sell-outs tell us, More trade means more economic growth! But Americans have long since awakened to the fact that growth from trade agreements like NAFTA has made super-rich elites richer while the incomes of almost everyone else have gone south. There’s still a chance to defeat the TPP–in fact, the August issue of The Lowdown will profile the gritty and effective populist coalition that has come together to oppose the deal.
In the meantime, our award goes to the Senate’s Global Goobers. Any one of these Dems would have defeated fast track if he or she had stood with the people rather than the multinational giants: Michael Bennet (CO), Maria Cantwell (WA), Tom Carper (DE), Chris Coons (DE), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tim Kaine (VA), Claire McCaskill (MO), Patty Murray (WA), Bill Nelson (FL), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Mark Warner (VA), and Ron Wyden (OR).
The Ted Nut. A refrain in a country song about a cheatin’ spouse says: “The dude can’t even do wrong right.” That’s Ted Cruz in a nutshell. The ultra-extremist senator from Texas, propelled by the fumes of his own goofiness, has decided he should be our president. In the grandiose declaration of his candidacy, The Cruzer pledged that #1 on his White House to-do list is the total elimination of Obamacare. He smirked that he would red-line “every word” of this landmark legislation that has brought healthcare coverage to more than ten million previously uninsured Americans. That’s goofy, but then he went bullgoose gooberish the very next day, telling a CNN interviewer that he was on his wife’s insurance plan, but she was taking a leave of absence, so the family was suddenly uninsured. What were they going to do? asked the host. Without blinking or blushing, Ted said they intended to sign up for Obamacare.
Celebrity goober leaves a bad taste. Poor Alec Baldwin found himself in a Manhattan traffic snarl in April, caused by thousands of fast food workers marching for decent pay. And he didn’t react well. “Oh, I support their cause,” the actor and proud liberal tweeted. “[But] the timing of their event wasn’t what good NYers would do. Life in NY is hard enough as is,” complained the guy whose hardships are cushioned by a $67 million personal fortune. “[They should protest] somewhere where they’re not going to block the rush hour here in Manhattan. …There are ways to rally people to your cause without inconveniencing an entire city,” Baldwin fumed.
When I read his rant comparing a moment’s inconvenience to the grinding injustice that has prompted these street protests, I recalled a satirical political song by the terrific bluegrass group, the Austin Lounge Lizards: “Life is Hard. But Life Is Hardest When You’re Dumb.” Just substitute ” a Goober” for dumb, and you’ve got Baldwin.
A perpetual goober machine. “Ginormous” is a silly, made-up redundancy, but it’s a perfect fit for the cosmic ego of Donnie Trump, a silly, made-up celebrity who keeps pretending to be a presidential candidate so the media will pay attention to him.
This year we honor Trump for his commander-in-chiefiness. In May, he revealed on Fox News that he has a plan to defeat the barbaric Islamic State marauders “quickly and effectively.” Excellent Donald. What is the plan? “It is a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS,” he explained, “and it will be absolutely 100 percent.” No doubt, sir, but what is it? He refused to give specifics, cryptically declaring, “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”
Some speculate that Trump’s secret plan is to cast holograms of his own head over every ISIS camp, with him mouthing a continuous loop of his gooberisms in high-decibel surround sound.
Corporate America’s executive suites are where our nation’s best and brightest preside, where no-nonsense rationality is paramount, where the genius of the free market prevails–or at least that’s the picture painted by (guess who?) the denizens of the executive suites themselves. In fact, many c-suites are nuthouses.
Boss in a clown suit. Steve Easterbrook became top boss of McDonald’s in March, but he’s been acting less like a leader and more like Ronald, the chain’s red-wigged clown. With sagging sales and national notoriety as the Golden Arches of Greed, the $6.5 billion giant chain is in need of a complete overhaul of its corporate ethic, but Steve is fooling around with cosmetic touches while exclaiming loudly that McD is now “a modern progressive burger company.”
At the chain’s shareholder meeting in May, with hundreds of protesters outside demanding $15-an-hour from the superrich corporation, Steve said he was “incredibly proud” that he had just announced an unprecedented pay raise for every McWorker. Incredible indeed. The big raise pegged McD’s base pay to $1 above the local minimum wage, leaving those workers still mired in poverty. Further, it only applies to workers in chain-owned stores, providing nothing for the 90 percent who toil for franchised McDonald’s restaurants.
Bold-thinking Easterbrook has also resolved to address customer complaints about food quality: Henceforth, he decreed, line cooks will toast the burger buns a bit longer to impart a toastier flavor. And finally, to prove that the old burger behemoth has truly been transformed, the CEO revealed yet another jaw-dropping improvement: The corporate clown himself, Ronald McDonald, will be getting a spiffy new clown suit.
Genetically modified goobers. One reason corporations get away with running roughshod over us is that America’s mass-market media has been thoroughly corporatized–both in structure and mindset. To see the corporate-media symbiosis in action, check out a July food conference for journalists put on by the National Press Foundation. NPF promotes the conference as an in-depth, four-day, all-expense paid “boot camp” for reporters on the issues of “feeding the world’s growing population.” Educating reporters sounds great, but, wait… shouldn’t journalists ask: Who’s providing this education?
Corporations, that’s who. NPF is funded by such giants as Bayer, Entergy, Ford, Honda, Lockheed Martin, and Prudential. And who is the chief sponsor of NPF’s boot camp on the future of food? Monsanto! NPF moved the conference to St. Louis, home of this huckster of genetically altered frankenfoods, specifically so reporters could visit its corporate labs and get “educated.” Asked about Monsanto’s bad reputation, NPF chief Sandy Johnson turned gooberishly defensive: “In whose eyes?” she snapped at the reporter, before asserting that Monsanto’s GMO manipulations “allowed the United States to feed the world”–a line straight out of Monsanto’s propaganda.
That’s why Monsanto and NPF get the 2015 “Two Goobers In A Pod Prize.” This duo’s creative scheme for the corruption of journalism goes like this: (1) the corporation funds the corporate foundation, which (2) puts a veneer of journalistic legitimacy on a conference, which (3) promotes what the corporation is selling. If much of today’s reporting seems unreal, that’s because it’s not real and not journalism–it’s spoon-fed corporate indoctrination.
In his 14 years in the Texas statehouse, Rick “Oops” Perry set the gold standard for putting the goober in gubernatorial. But, alas, Rick has moved beyond state office (though not before establishing his uber-gooberness last August by reminding us that states are “the lavatories” of democracy). Luckily, however, other governors have stepped up to fill the void, including these three champions:
How to stop climate change. In keeping with party dogma, Republican governors refuse to do anything about climate change. But Rick Scott, the Florida honcho, has gone deeper into the darkness of denial by decreeing that state employees may not speak such phrases as “global warming” or “sustainability.” Even the impending state disaster of rising sea levels must be addressed by the Orwellian phrase, “nuisance flooding.”
In February, when a state environmental official inadvertently blurted out “climate change” during a teleconference, the transgressor earned a letter of reprimand, a suspension without pay, and an order to undergo a doctor’s exam to verify his mental “fitness for duty.”
The Mayor of Texas. A corporate toady named Greg Abbott is now governor of the Lone Star State, but he has set himself up as the state’s SuperMayor, usurping the right of local people to govern themselves. Abbott is alarmed that folks around Texas seem to think that they know best what their individual communities need and have been taking their own actions against frackers, low-wage exploiters, developers, polluters, and other corporate intruders. “Unchecked overregulation by cities will turn the Texas miracle into the California nightmare,” Greg wailed, warning that local democracy is “forming a patchwork quilt [of regulations] that is eroding the Texas model.” So the Mighty Mayor intends to “pre-empt”–that is, outlaw–the protections enacted by grassroots people in their towns, leaving abusive corporate profiteers safely wrapped in the “Texas model” of soft, non-binding regulation, specially fitted for cor-porate comfort and ease of movement.
Gooberus Maximus. Scott Walker— the union-busting, corporate-enthroning, anti-government enthusiast in the Wisconsin governor’s mansion–is the Koch Kandidate for president, so he’ll be loaded with money. But he’s proving to be astonishingly short on brain cells, coming across as fuzzier than a dust bunny. Three examples:
First, on a trade mission to England in February, Walker embarrassed himself (and us) by bumbling softball questions posed by a prominent British television host. Having denied the reality of climate change, Walker was then asked by the incredulous Brit if he at least agrees that evolution is real. Well, the presidential wannabe chuckled as he squirmed, “I’m going to punt on that one.”
Second, back in the USA, Walker was caught trying to Kochize the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin. In his 2,000-page budget proposal, Walker quietly slipped in a re-write of what’s known as the Wisconsin Idea–the century-old proclamation that the public university exists “to extend knowledge,” to “serve and stimulate society,” to “improve the human condition,” and to “search for truth.” Walker actually X-ed out these high pursuits, substituting a cold, shallow, corporate grasp of higher education’s mission: “To meet the state’s workforce needs.” Students revolted, alumni howled, fellow Republicans ran for cover –and Koch-man cravenly claimed that “someone” in his office made “a drafting error.” Chicken stuff! The Milwaukee daily paper uncovered documents revealing that Walker & Co. had deliberately done the rewrite in a crass attempt to reduce the university to a corporate trade school.
Third, “Scott Walker, MD” surfaced in May. Pandering to anti-choice extremists, he had rammed into state law a nasty proviso that women making the difficult, private decision to have an abortion must first submit to a mandatory viewing of an ultrasound image of the fetus, and sometimes be subjected to a vaginal probe. But now, trying to position himself for a national run, the gubernatorial gynecologist is trying to weasel out of the ugliness. He insists that the media misinterpreted the ultrasound as something bad; in fact, says Walker, this forced government intrusion into woman’s bodies is “a lovely thing.” Parents and grandparents, gushed this clueless doofus, proudly show off sonogram pics of their kiddos-to-be. “It’s just a cool thing out there,” he explained.