By John Helmer, Moscow
It was almost a century ago that a Chicago adman gave the Kellogg Company the idea of selling breakfast cereal made of puffed rice by telling children that the rice grains cried out as the spoon scooped them from the milk towards their mouths – SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! That’s what the rice sang in the radio jingle for what, in the American version, was called Rice Krispies. In the British version it was called Rice Bubbles.
Like popcorn, puffed rice is made by heating the grain under steam pressure. The technology is at least a thousand years old in China. To make it palatable in America, the box is filled with 90% rice, 9% sugar, and a pinch of salt. Without the jingle, though, no child would want it.
Matt Taibbi (lead images), once a Moscow-based US reporter, has built up an internet following by snapping, crackling and popping at well-known targets and names, mostly of US government officials and the media reporters who parrot them. His Substack audience is large, lucrative and also demanding, but not for Russian or Ukrainian war news, analysis, opinions. Not unless the US president, or his subordinates, or their mouthpieces on the big and small screens are making war-mongering fools of themselves. When they do, their krispies and bubbles turn into Taibbi’s sugar.
When the Russian special military operation began on February 24, Taibbi apologized with a pinch of salt. “My mistake was more like reverse chauvinism, being so fixated on Western misbehaviour that I didn’t bother to take this possibility seriously enough [SNAP!]. To readers who trust me not to make those misjudgements, I’m sorry [CRACKLE!!]. Obviously, Putin’s invasion will have horrific consequences for years to come and massively destabilize the world [POP!!!].”
“I fear there will be more to say soon, but I’ll leave it at that for today. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and I was wrong about this.”
Now eight weeks have gone by, and Taibbi has just announced: “I believe it’s eventually going to come out that [George W.] Bushian ‘regime change’ is the plan for Russia, by force if necessary”. “Eventually” is the jingle word. The way Taibbi says it, he makes it sound as if he’s making a prediction he’s sure his readers will discover again months, maybe years into the future, when they are getting their subscription renewal invoices and Taibbi is hoping to bank the earnings. Predicting for the future what has already happened and been discovered in the past – that’s the new POP!
But Taibbi is still calling what is going on in the Ukraine “Putin’s far more serious invasion”. He hasn’t apologized yet for not explaining to his readers how Putin can “invade” if what the Russian army is doing, Taibbi insists he has now discovered, is defending against the “Bushian regime change plan for Russia by force”.
If that isn’t puffing rice for breakfast, you can call me W.K. Kellogg.
In the short history of presidential brain scramble, before there was Taibbi, President Ronald Reagan came first. And it was Garry Trudeau who first published the discovery in January of 1981, just after Reagan was inaugurated for the first time. That comic strip of Trudeau’s, depicting a hunt inside the jungle of Reagan’s brain, was banned by dozens of newspaper subscribers in the Doonesbury syndicate.
In Search of Reagan’s Brain by G.B. Trudeau.
In due course Reagan’s dementia was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. Officially, that diagnosis wasn’t announced until 1994, four years after the president had left office. In fact, the evidence was being reported – also covered up – between 1984 and 1986.
A well-known reporter concealed for fourteen years what she had observed at the White House when she interviewed the president in 1986: “Reagan was as shriveled as a kumquat. He was so frail, his skin so paper-thin. I could almost see the sunlight through the back of his withered neck…His eyes were coated. Larry [Speakes, press secretary] introduced us, but he had to shout. Had Reagan turned off his hearing aid? Reagan didn’t seem to know who I was. He gave me a distant look with those milky eyes and shook my hand weakly. Oh, my, he’s gonzo, I thought. I have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet. My heart began to hammer with the import…I was aware of the delicacy with which I would have to write my script. But I was quite sure of my diagnosis.”
There are many types of dementia, and the type manifested by Alzheimer’s isn’t like the one which comes with Parkinson’s Disease. That’s called Lewy body dementia…
Taibbi has provided a diagnostic list of Biden’s intentional lies and his clinical misspeaks, flubs and gaffes, and compared them to those of George W. Bush. “The big difference between Bushisms and Bidenisms is the former were often endearing or unintentionally funny, while Biden is mostly just horrifying. His brain is like a cereal bowl in which the bits floating in milk occasionally touch and produce furious or incoherent exclamations: ‘immune to prostitute’, ‘I love those barrettes in her hair map,’ ‘I used to drive an 18-wheeler, man,’ ‘Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks but he’ll never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people,’ and so on. Even when the president is just mixing up words, it’s a freak show, like that time a few weeks ago when he talked about ‘our underlying effort to accommodate the Russian oligarchs and take their ill-begotten gains…We’re gonna accommodate them.’ Official White House transcripts now contain bracketed passages to explain to us what the president ‘meant’ to say.”
This may be gonzo journalism; it isn’t investigative reporting. Clinically, Biden is displaying the symptoms of Lewy body dementia; this means he can be quite lucid one minute and the next minute he illustrates what Taibbi calls the cereal bowl. In Bush’s case, there has been a clinical diagnosis of his father’s vascular parkinsonism, which is not the same thing as Parkinson’s Disease. Genetic factors have been identified in both types of disease, so President George W, the son, may have an inherited disposition to turn into President George H.W, the father’s cereal bowl.
Notwithstanding, the symptoms of stupidity can mimic those of Parkinson’s and parkinsonism; stupidity can also be genetic. Stupidity is a presidential condition that isn’t covered by the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution – it isn’t a medically certifiable inability or disability to discharge the powers and duties of the presidency, voted on by the cabinet, as a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Lewy body dementia or Parkinson’s or parkinsonism ought to be. Stupidity is a condition that can be diagnosed and certified by American voters once every four years at a presidential election. Short of that, there are the regular job approval ratings which are measured and published every week. Disapproval of the president’s performance and a finding of stupidity aren’t quite the same thing, but they come close.
Here is the historical record of the job approval rating for President George W. Bush; note that on Election Day, November 4, 2008, his disapproval rating was 68.3%; approval 27.8%. He went on to gain voter approval after he had been voted out of office.
Source: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/ -- rating represents the average of 6 polls.
Compare this to President Biden’s job approval rating.
Source: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/ -- rating represents the average of 6 polls.
Several points of contrast to remark: firstly, the crossover, when voter disapproval becomes greater than approval, didn’t occur for Bush until fifty months after his first inauguration. In Biden’s case, the crossover occurred after just seven months; that’s seven times faster. Next, Biden hasn’t yet reached the peak disapproval which Bush registered – he has eleven points to go. Finally, the margin between disapproval and approval was 40.5 points for Bush on Election Day in 2008; for Biden at the moment the margin is 13.5 points. This is best interpreted to mean that US voters were overwhelmingly convinced that Bush was stupid, in the sense that they didn’t agree with what he was saying and doing. In Biden’s case today, there is much less conviction on the part of voters.
This also means there is far less belief among voters in Biden’s dementia than there was in Bush’s stupidity. Biden’s conduct of the war against Russia is making next to no difference to this, no matter what the president means to say, or what he can’t help himself misspeaking. This has another consequence.
When Taibbi apologized to his readers for making a mistake about the Russian “invasion”, he knew it didn’t matter to them whether Biden intended to make war on Russia, or Russia intended to defend itself from the US attack, or Putin intended to invade the Ukraine without justification. Taibbi isn’t rallying millions of Americans to the anti-war cause, like the old American days. He isn’t Seymour Hersh, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Hunter S. Thompson or Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine. Did those Americans apologize for making mistakes about the North Vietnamese Army, the Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh?
What matters to the Substack audience is not mobilising anger, protest laughter, or militant organisation. Substack is a heatsink — it transfers energy from a high-temperature source before it explodes, into a cooling medium like hot air or water, and dissipates it harmlessly.
Substack is what the pub, café, kafenio, kaffeeklatsch, teahouse, and трактир (traktir) were for in the past, not before there was US war in Europe, but before there was Taibbi to apologize for it. In those places there was also added value — that was the opportunity for persuading someone out of their pants and into bed. You can’t subscribe to Substack for that.